Maggie Blyth, author of some of our best-selling texts on children at risk has recently taken her extensive experience working in local and national government to a Direct Entry Superintendent role in the police. In this blog post, originally posted on Maggie’s own blog on 7 January, she talks about the experience so far.
“A few weeks ago, after a lengthy application process, I became a police officer.
Not just a new job but a sweeping career change following 30 years immersed in another sector – formerly education, then youth justice, most latterly child protection. I feel deeply honoured to be entering a new career at the latter stage of my working life and to be joining a progressive police force, in such an important role, but I don’t underestimate the challenge ahead – for me it’s a two way process.
“I don’t underestimate the challenge ahead – for me it’s a two way process.”
Entering policing provides a unique opportunity to bring transferable skills as a senior executive from a different perspective, but moreover feels an unbelievable privilege, to understand better the pressures on policing – to be the learner not just the leader – with the expectation to help find future solutions. To lead beyond professional boundaries while simultaneously be learning from those who know most from inside. What attracts me to Direct Entry is the strong focus on understanding policing from the front line. During the 18 month programme about 70% is spent on patrol, in local communities and out with specialist police officers experienced in what they do. For someone passionate about working in partnership across the public sector, about protecting the most vulnerable in our communities and getting to grips with the real threats facing society, this dual function of leadership/learning as a Direct Entry Superintendent provides an invaluable chance to make a difference. Through learning as well as leading I can come at some of the problems facing the most vulnerable victims, with a perspective that embraces the most collaborate of leadership across the public sector. Because today’s most challenging issues remain the sorts of problems only a partnership response can address: child sexual exploitation, child abuse, domestic abuse, cyber crime – all within a backdrop of reduced resources.
“…today’s most challenging issues remain the sorts of problems only a partnership response can address.”
So what can I say so far?
Firstly, the brand. Surprising perhaps to some but my overarching experience has been the warm welcome. From the most senior of police officers through to the front line staff I have met in my first few weeks I have encountered only enthusiasm about Direct Entry. There is no doubt that the move has more than raised the odd eyebrow – and some have been candid with their views. But the dialogue has led to lively debate on relevant issues from officer safety; the use of force; role of spit guards; single/double crewing to more familiar territory for me linked to public confidence, community cohesion, safer neighbourhoods… and inevitably, given my background and the changing face of policing, tackling vulnerability.
And secondly. Probably best summed up by what I saw in the first few hours I spent out on patrol with a team in my local force. During that period I saw capable, caring, committed police constables deal with much of the world I had come from, but from a different angle. First up was a vulnerable adolescent at risk of exploitation, and missing from school. Next was a domestic followed swiftly by a young adult involved in a pursuit, exhibiting everything from the excess of drugs and alcohol to entrenched mental health problems. And in the same shift the PC I was with responded to a sudden death. What struck me most was the extent of the autonomy and discretion available to front line officers and the seriousness they in return gave to being accountable, to doing the right thing with a strong desire to help the people they encountered. What it reinforced for me strategically is the need for local authorities, the health economy and policing to at the most senior level to better equip front line staff to work together, share information and ensure a collaborative response to those in need.
So the third point. I encountered for the first time a number of special constables. These are men and women with the same powers as any police officer but who give their time free as volunteers. My force has around 350 specials and I was struck by how vital this cohort is, not just providing much needed resource to intensive demand such as missing children, but strengthening links to local communities by encouraging people to get involved in policing. Doing the same job as regulars they carry out a professional and invaluable job.
It’s too early days for me to comment in any detail on Direct Entry – but as I reflect and navigate through a career change described by one colleague as a ‘handbrake turn, ’I remain humbled by the opportunity to move so significantly in a new direction but all the time bringing with me the experience and expertise of a whole different career behind me. There will be tricky manoeuvres moving forward, I will need to think hard on my feet. But what an opportunity to be part of something that could bring greater co-ordination of front line services for those needing protection. In summary my very early observations as a new Direct Entry Superintendent reinforce the need for more effective answers to these recurring questions:
- The need for partnership solutions – how do front line professionals work together to ensure children get adequate protection?
- How does information get recorded and shared to ensure families get right help at right time?
- How do we use new domestic abuse powers to best protect victims?
- What are the places of safety for mentally ill or vulnerable adults?
- What is appropriate force, how should front line staff respond to threats?
- What does collaborative leadership across the public sector mean at local level?
- How do we put public confidence and trust in policing at the forefront?
As leaders across the public sector, not just in policing, we need to support front line staff working in the most challenging of circumstances. Programmes like Direct Entry offer the opportunity for any organisation to reflect on continuing wicked issues, but from a new perspective. My responsibility is to help create a new narrative, work hard to influence front line staff, peers and other senior managers. Direct Entry Superintendents don’t know everything about policing. Far from it. But we do bring a set of skills, knowledge and, in my case, lifetime careers with us, to allow a different lens through which to look and tackle persistent problems. Perhaps with our backgrounds we bring a new set of eyes and different answers.
Effective safeguarding for children and young people By Maggie Blyth and Enver Solomon can be ordered here for £15.19.
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