Nice little returner

A Midlands authority has found a way to access an untapped source of already qualified and readily available social workers. Derren Hayes reports

Comments made by visitors at job fairs left senior managers at Warwickshire Council sensing a solution to their social care recruitment woes. For this was a group of people no longer working in the sector but who had the qualifications to return.

So in 2004 managers at the council’s children’s department advertised for just such qualified people. Warwickshire was encouraged by the response, and whittled down the applicants to eight people who met the cri teria.

Marie Evans, principal operations manager, south region, for children in need at Warwickshire, says the intake had the diploma in social work but felt they lacked the up-to-date skills to apply for jobs. She says: “No college seemed to offer a return-to-work scheme so we thought we’d look into doing this. We looked at the best way of getting them up to speed. When we interviewed people we looked at where they wanted to work and where the vacancies may be. Not all had experience in children’s social work.”

Some of the intake had been away from practice for 10 years, others just a few, but all were started on newly qualified pay grades. Evans admits there was “huge variation” in their knowledge of legislation. The six-month refresher programme included a series of intensive workshops on developments in practice and law. At the same time, the recruits had reduced caseloads, could shadow experienced colleagues and had access to independent mentoring.

Evans says: “Because things move on quickly in terms of practice issues, research and legislation you can quickly get out of step. But the scheme said to people ‘you may not think you have the ability to be a social worker but we think you do with the right support’. ”

The eight recruits have varied backgrounds: some were house husbands, others had left for family reasons, but all were rich in life experience. After the first year, five had been promoted, whereas normally it would take newly qualified staff twice as long.

But there were difficulties, says Jenny Butlin-Moran, Evans’s counterpart in the north of the county. “For some the hardest part was about being back in full-time work, whereas others had been in different sorts of employment  including working in a pet shop.”

Also, ensuring the existing workforce understood the limitations of their new colleagues was important, says Butlin-Moran. “Newly qualified social workers would have bigger caseloads, so ensuring they understood these new staff were on the scheme and why they’d have more support was important. We gave a lot of guidance to team managers on what the returnees should do early on.”

By their own admission, Evans and Butlin-Moran think the workshops need tweaking as some of the returnees found them more useful than others, but this will be addressed when the next intake starts next year. Evans says: “We’ve had six returnees this time – they are different types of people: those who have never practised or been away just a short time.”

● If you are interested in returning to practice at Warwickshire, telephone Natasha Meadows on 01926 731057.

Sarah Dudas had been making sandwiches and serving behind the bar of a pub for a year when she spotted a local newspaper advert for the return-to-work scheme.

Dudas, who hadn’t practised for a couple of years after a bout of manic depression, applied and was interviewed. “I think I was pretty rubbish, forgetting how to describe the most basic of assessments. Nevertheless, they offered me the chance to return.”

When offered a place on the scheme “I almost fell off my chair”, Dudas says, so surprised was she that Warwickshire was prepared to take a chance on her when others would not.

With 20 years’ experience in mental health services, Dudas qualified in 1997 and by the time of her illness was running a specialist youth substance misuse service and had become a practice teacher. After the six-month refresher she was placed in a duty team. “My knowledge and understanding wasn’t that old; I just needed a little updating on things like the Leaving Care Act.”

After 18 months, Dudas has risen a grade and feels that her confidence and skills have returned, for which she thanks the supportive attitude of managers.

“They’ve listened to me when I’ve needed help. I didn’t need my hand held but the thought that they are there if I need them is important.”


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