Overview of the work  

Young people in Birmingham are being expelled from schools for poor behaviour and wrongly placed into special education. Many have mental health problems, rather than special educational needs, usually arising from trauma experienced at home and in care. Their problems are a symptom of their experiences of poverty, violence, addiction and unstable family situations as well as other harms.

A multi-agency pathfinder is attempting to reform systems so all schools can support young people to recover from the harms they are experiencing, no matter what challenges they pose. It is doing this by working not only with them but their families too, tackling disadvantages the current system only exacerbates.

Methodologies being used 
The methodologies we’ve used have included Geel’s theory of systems change (from experiment to systemic change), Co-resolve, as well as ORSC (organisation, relationships, systems coaching). These are deployed through coaching with the lead innovator Rob McCabe, design workshops with frontline staff and system actors.

Activities undertaken

1) Trialling a new kind of intensive and relational support that is adaptive, trauma- informed and strengths-based delivered by the school workforce and wrapped around by a multi-agency team of advisors, counsellors and supporters, dedicated to the most troubled pupils and their families.
2) Creating tools and an environment where the system can learn about the fuller picture for young people and families – their lives and interactions with services. This is being done via software, a research partnership and iterative, reflective, delivery.
3) Creating an authorising environment within a set of systems via networking, lobbying, creating advisory boards as well as ‘relationship systems’ work

Our sense is that the transformative power of the work lies in the values and principles of what it is does. But connecting and sharing with the system on the level of values and principles is hard when what it says matters are evidence, metrics, impact and cost savings.

Which of the system behaviours is the work connecting to at the moment? 

People see themselves as part of an interconnected whole
There is shared purpose and vision
Power is shared and equality of voice actively promoted


Re-thinking family interventions from an ACE perspective (Birmingham) by Clare Wightman and Rob McCabe in Addressing Adversity: Addressing Adversity. Towards adversity and trauma-informed services for children and young people in England ed. Marc Bush (2018)

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