Hackney reorganises children’s social work

Reclaiming social work. That’s what they are calling it here. The phrase reminds me of the Reclaim the Night marches that women went on in the 1970s to give us the right to go out safely in the evening. The point of the marches was to show that if enough of us were there, if we could get a critical mass of people to be out on the streets sharing the same objective, then nobody could hurt us. Well, OK, it’s not exactly like that, changing the way social work services are provided to children in an inner London borough. This is local government after all, not well known for bravery or radicalism. But there are similarities.

Here in Hackney, the senior managers have come up with a model that they believe will help children’s social care staff to build confidence in what they are doing and a strong professional identity (that’s the reclaiming part). Using tried and tested methodologies, the model aims to increase the competence of social work staff and develop clarity about the role and task of social work.

Social work teams are out, social work units are in. The whole unit will work with the family. Each unit will be headed up by a consultant social worker, who will have case responsibility. These people will be well paid, have access to professional development courses, and be given the autonomy to make decisions about cases. They won’t have to keep using the phrase: “I’ll have to ask my manager”.

Most important of all, they will have a small group of staff to help them, including qualified therapists/clinicians who will give advice to staff within the unit as well as working directly with families. The investment in clinicians is impressive (at least 25), and the aim is that social workers will only use interventions that have a proven evidence base.

The task of change project manager is to help them move from where they are now to the new model. There are pros and cons about the job. On the plus side, I have met with intelligent and enthusiastic people, been part of some great debates about what could work, and have seen a real commitment to providing a good service for children and their families. It’s very exciting.

On the down side, there is all this paperwork. There are project initiation documents, job descriptions, structure charts, timetables, cabinet reports, risk assessments, training strategies, financial projections – all important preparation of course. The planning is crucial in ensuring success and we must have a clear picture about how to push 400 staff through the change over the next 12 months.

Next week, we start the staff conferences to give people a chance to think the model through and work out how it will affect their individual posts. Then we really start the work to get that critical mass of people to believe in and work towards a common objective: a professional social care service where people know what they’re doing and do it well. Reclaiming the night didn’t feel like we were doing anything particularly brave. I’m hoping reclaiming social work will be the same.

Claire Chamberlain is a freelance consultant managing the change project for children’s social care in the London Borough of Hackney. This is the first of four articles from her over the next 12 months reflecting on implementing change

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