Driving Change from Within

How Department for Work and Pensions managers (‘DWP’) at the heart of this partnership have driven change internally.

Fulfilling Lives is a voice that represents a group of people from our communities that often struggle to overcome barriers to access support services. The local DWP teams recognised this and wanted to go on a journey with Fulfilling Lives to explore improvements to service provision and access for customers with multiple complex needs. The DWP managers understood that Job Centres do not work in isolation and are integral to local support systems and important community partners across the sector. When viewed from this stance, Job Centres need to be welcoming, inclusive and provide equity of access to the opportunities they offer.

It is for these reasons the DWP embarked on a partnership journey with Fulfilling Lives that would empower and enable the workforce to better respond to complexity and, for the Brighton Job Centre Plus (JCP), to develop greater insight into often-misunderstood members of our local community.

Active feedback gathering – the outside looking in

To understand how the Brighton JCP were perceived in the local community, senior managers invited local services to several coffee mornings to share their clients’ perceptions of accessing the Brighton JCP. From these conversations, it emerged how the building itself and front of house at the Brighton JCP was a significant barrier to engagement, causing, fear, anxiety & stress to customers, particularly those with multiple complex needs. The physical environment was described by one attendee “as speaking louder than the Job Centre staff” and this was significantly hindering a proper conversation with customers or at worst was often seen as a trigger for incidents.

Rather than looking for short-term quick fixes, the management team sat with the feedback and decided to use this as an opportunity and platform for change.

Question for DWP partners: What were your initial reactions to the feedback you received at the coffee mornings?

The initial response from the management team for Brighton Jobcentre was of great interest as the feedback was not surprising but the consistency, scope, detail, and volume gave far more weight and impetus to making specific changes than had ever been received before when trying customer surveys and other routes to identify areas to improve

Finding partners to support change

They decided to approach a local partner who knew clients with multiple complex needs well, the Fulfilling Lives team, and develop a relationship to think about how we could address these issues collaboratively for the long term.

Question for DWP partners: What did you find most helpful about the collaboration with Fulfilling Lives?

Most useful in the collaboration with Fulfilling Lives was the structure offered which became a framework that Brighton Jobcentre could use to facilitate change, the feedback from Fulfilling Lives consultants with lived experience and the fresh set of eyes from Fulfilling Lives painted a picture for Brighton Jobcentre that was incredibly illustrative.

Overcoming Barriers

We know that change is difficult. Therefore, by virtue, culture and systems change is difficult. So how did the DWP team address any barriers of challenges?

This is where the importance of developing safe spaces for staff really paid off. Spaces where new ways of thinking can be allowed to form and be challenged and, where tackling thorny conversations is indispensable. Spaces where trust and honesty can be established.

Question for DWP partners: What do you feel was the most effective way you helped overcome barriers to change?

The most important and effective way of overcoming barriers to change was to include as many Jobcentre staff as possible in the process of change and by doing this showing trust and honesty. This we feel prevented fear of change and gave confidence to exploring change.

  1. Sharing the vision: clear messages

Despite some staff understandably feeling displeased at being initially kept in the dark about mystery shoppers or assessments of the environment, and the unforeseen impact of coronavirus and the immense pressures and challenges that have come with it. The Brighton JCP team have stayed with us and continued to work as equal partners towards our common goal of improving the system for those customers with multiple complex needs.  

The team had a clear message about why the partnership with Fulfilling Lives was important and why changes were important

2. Engaging colleagues across the organisation

Two ways in which the DWP managers were able to leverage the learning from this collaboration to drive the change internally was through employee participation and effective communication.

Firstly, Brighton JCP staff had the opportunity to be involved in decision making through two working groups that were established to implement Fulfilling Lives recommendations. Additionally, when feeding back on the outcome of the mystery shopper and environment assessment the feedback was presented by Fulfilling Lives to the entire Brighton JCP staff team. Including the G4S security guard team. This approach set the tone that as a service we were all it in it together and we weren’t going to shy away from the tough questions we need to ask ourselves.

Secondly, this approach to openness and effective communication was extended to senior leaders.  The learning and momentum developed with the wider workforce established the platform to communicate in a way to DWP senior leaders that painted a clear picture of what was possible in supporting this group of customers going forward.

3. Supporting staff: training and development

By embedding a mandatory training resource in the induction process for new employees the DWP workforce will have better insight into trauma informed practice and complex needs. Leading to more confident, knowledgeable, appropriate, and empathetic responses towards customers presenting with complex trauma histories. 

4. Sharing the change with others

Creating a workforce development resource that is embedded into the DWP Sussex & Surrey district learning and development platform, presented a unique opportunity to share the learning beyond the Brighton JCP and aid the DWP to continue the drive for change from within.

We shouldn’t lose sight of the degree of effort culture and systems change requires generating the traction to make it happen. It needs people who can adjust to their audience and adapt the messaging to differing levels of an organisation and in doing so create momentum to bring people with them, and ensuring senior leaders understand the value of the proposition.

Question for DWP partners: Looking back on the change journey and partnership, is there anything you would do differently?

Although the change journey could not be fully envisaged at the outset, it would have been beneficial to link up with national DWP colleagues at an earlier stage. This would have started conversations about national roll out of training resources earlier as we have since found that navigating the national framework of training and development a complex task because of the differing agendas in different areas of the DWP.

Question for DWP partners: What might you say to other leaders looking to embark on large scale change?

We would say with a very high level of conviction “seize the opportunity and you have nothing to lose and everything to gain”. Also, we would say it is so important and powerful to begin to better understand how our services can be prohibitive and the benefits of removing barriers for people with multiple complex needs.


Author: Alan Wallace

Should you wish to find out more about our partnership work or our systems change efforts, please contact:

Alan Wallace, Systems Change Officer: alan.wallace@sefulfillinglives.org.uk


Rebecca Rieley, Systems Change Lead: rebecca.rieley@sefulfillinglives.org.uk

For more information sign up to our newsletter:


Joint Working: The Power of Collaboration

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, many services (statutory and third sector alike) stopped all face-to-face contact with service users and started working remotely. This shift in support was especially difficult for clients experiencing multiple and complex needs (MCN), including learning disabilities (LD), where the right type of communication is vital for understanding.

This article is about the importance of collaboration between services and an example of good practice when supporting women with MCN and LD through care proceedings.

We, at Fulfilling Lives South East (FLSE), together with Brighton & Hove Speak Out (BHSO) are currently working with the same mother, who has MCN and a LD. This mother’s child is subject to care proceedings and is currently living in foster care. This collaboration has highlighted some obstacles in the system for the mother from a front-line perspective, as well as advocacy point of view.

The FLSE Women’s Specialist Worker and BHSO Advocate agreed that it was much harder to build a trusting relationship remotely, and that effective communication was impaired

Whilst FLSE continued face-to-face support throughout the pandemic; the BHSO Advocate and Specialist Adult Social Worker were only able to offer remote support. When reflecting together, the FLSE Women’s Specialist Worker and BHSO Advocate agreed that it was much harder to build a trusting relationship remotely, and that effective communication was impaired. In some instances, the client’s mistrust of professionals and their misunderstanding of her and her partners’ behaviour, led to them making assumptions, which the FL Women’s Specialist Worker needed to challenge.

During the client’s pregnancy and post-birth, all Children’s Services meetings were held using video-conference facilities. Court hearings, parenting assessments and support, were also remote during this period. Children’s Services enabled digital access for some of the meetings at their premises; at other times the FL Women’s Specialist Worker had to provide equipment in alternative locations. Where the physical equipment was available, the FLSE Women’s Specialist Worker supported the client to use the technology, and to understand, communicate, and regulate their emotions. The BHSO Advocate was able to support the understanding of information before and after each meeting and feed the client’s voice back into the process. Without FLSE’s support, the client risked complete exclusion from the care proceedings.

Unfortunately, digital inclusion does not always reach the most marginalised people, including people experiencing MCN. The push for digital inclusion when providing essential services, for example health care appointments, adult social care support and court proceedings, has demonstrated just how many vulnerable adults do not have easy access to laptops and the internet. Even when digital access is available, communication via this method offers challenges to all participants. Non-verbal communication is much harder to recognise, multiple voices can be hard to follow, and a large number of participants can be intimidating. This type of communication is additionally difficult for those with a LD who have additional communication and processing needs and requirements.  With the parenting assessment and support also being conducted on-line, this again creates a further barrier for those with MCN.

FLSE would like to call for a person-centred approach for key meetings, to enable professionals to meet clients in a safe way to reduce the impact of exclusion and reduce the infliction of further trauma

FLSE would like to call for a person-centred approach for key meetings, to enable professionals to meet clients in a safe way to reduce the impact of exclusion and reduce the infliction of further trauma. In this case, the Local Authority applied for the child to be removed from the mother’s care at birth. The FLSE Women’s Specialist Worker supported the mother at hospital just after her birth, to make sure her voice was heard in meetings, medical exams and at the virtual court hearing. As the mother had a diagnosis of LD, she had access to a Specialist Adult Social Worker who was able to arrange this support and other reasonable adjustments whilst she was on the ward. Without this collaboration between the Local Authority, NHS and FLSE, the event of having a child removed at birth would have been even more traumatic for the mother.

When reflecting with BHSO, we agreed that the child protection process is very child focused – and rightly so. However, we would like to see an improved understanding and implementation of the communication and support needs of parents with LD, at the start of Local Authority interventions. Easy read documentation of the processes, key reports and assessments are rarely made available by children’s professionals, yet they are essential for the vast majority of MCN and LD mothers, as is, allowing additional time for processing and understanding information. Advocacy at the earliest opportunity is also essential within the tight child timescales, along with referral to adult services and other 3rd party support as needed.

FLSE and BHSO, would also like to see specialist support for parents with LD going through child protection and care proceedings. This includes conducting parenting assessments in a more LD friendly way, focussing on what parents can achieve, rather than just their struggles. Where support needs are identified, commissioners should ensure that services are available and accessible. This includes longer-term parenting support options, (such as Shared Lives- a scheme that matches someone with care needs to an approved carer), relationship safety support and awareness, and a holistic approach as provided by FLSE.

The right support and a trauma informed approach with the time and care put in at early stages can have a lasting positive effect on their recovery and reduce the likelihood of another pregnancy

We know that women who are going through child protection processes and care proceedings are likely to be experiencing MCN and LD. These parents often face increased stigma, and without advocacy to challenge professional behaviours, this will continue to exacerbate harm. However, the right support and a trauma informed approach with the time and care put in at early stages can have a lasting positive effect on their recovery and reduce the likelihood of another pregnancy.

Throughout our client’s journey and together with BHSO, peer support between the FL Women’s Specialist Worker and BHSO Advocate was appreciated and this collaboration has shown that a flexible and trauma informed approach can lead to positive relationships, not only for organisations but most importantly for the wellbeing of the mother.

Authors: Michaela Rossman, Gemma Harfleet & Nicola Johnson