Case Study

System change case study: Restorative Practice, Leeds 

by | Nov 3, 2021

Youth Futures Foundation has gathered this case study to help applicants to our Connected Futures Fund understand the kinds of things that might be involved in collective local efforts to change the ways that systems work. We recognise that the fund is not like ordinary project funding, and we hope you will find some of these case studies helpful prompts as you think through your application.

You do not have to copy or draw on this example at all. It is only an example, and it won’t all be relevant to you and your context – feel free to take what you need, and ignore the rest.

We will not give preference to applications that look like this example. We want to see your ideas for changing how things work.

Restorative Practice, Leeds

What is it?

In 2009, an Ofsted inspection found that Leeds City Council’s children’s services were “failing”, with some children at potential risk of serious harm. In response, the council committed to developing restorative practice across children’s social care.

This is a “high challenge, high support” approach, which works with families to help them reach a shared understanding of their problems, and develop their own solutions in a collaborative, non-confrontational way. For Leeds, it represents a philosophy or “way of being”, that puts the child at the heart of decisions that affect them, and works with families to nurture and restore positive, compassionate relationships.

How does it work?

A key component of the new approach was Family Group Conferencing. This is a shared decision-making meeting, involving children and young people, their carers and wider family as well as professionals. An independent facilitator supports the group to discuss problems caring for a child, from parental conflict or divorce to homelessness or ill health, and agree a resolution or next steps. Families who take part report that the process helps them address their problems, and they feel more involved and listened to.

Alongside new techniques, social workers and managers were trained in relational practice, with a focus on team dynamics, culture and behaviours as well as skills. The council also reduced its use of agency staff, and took steps to reduce caseloads and improve supervision, with a less rigid, more supportive approach to risk.

What makes this an example of systems change? 

These changes have turned children’s care in Leeds around. By 2015, Ofsted assessed Leeds Children’s Services as “good”, with a robust approach to child protection, and children and young people at the heart of services. An inspection in 2018 upgraded this to “outstanding”.

These improvements for children and young people have been driven by changes in the culture and practice of social work teams. Social workers now say that Leeds is a good place to do social work, where they feel they can make a difference.

The changes took place in the context of the council’s wider “Child Friendly Leeds” ambition to make Leeds the best city in the UK to grow up in. This created a consistent, narrative and point of reference for changes in practice and culture. The headline ambition was underpinned by new objectives and metrics, including “a relentless focus on continuous improvement”, which drove management attention and resources from the top down.

Elements of systems change:

  • Rethinking relationships with service users (from reactive to “high challenge, high support”)
  • Developing innovative services to demonstrate new ways of working in practice
  • Reorienting existing services and resources (to focus on strengths and relationships)
  • Asking new questions to encourage new ways of thinking and working (from “doing to” to “doing with”)
  • Changing objectives, incentives / accountability, culture and behaviours within services