How children’s services are improving in Devon

A feature sponsored by Devon County Council

No Big Bangs just incremental change in Devon

“At Devon, our principal purpose is to deliver a good service to children and families – absolutely everything we do is focused on achieving that,” says Debs Barlow, principal child and family social worker at Devon County Council. Taking lead responsibility for practice and reporting front line views and experiences to all levels of management, Debs is clear about what needs to happen for the service to achieve its aspirations.

“There are no big bangs, this is all about incremental change,” says Debs. “It’s about going in the right direction slowly, and not overwhelming our social workers.”

While there’s no doubt children’s services in Devon is on a journey, this is no magical mystery tour, there’s a well-planned and clearly defined path to follow. Recruitment and retention of qualified social workers is core in this, reflecting Professor Eileen Munro’s report that councils should develop ways of keeping experienced senior social workers in front line work so they can better supervise junior practitioners. Debs describes how Devon has taken this to heart and is delivering it at all levels: “A stable workforce allows our social workers to get out, to see and listen to children,” she says, before going on to clarify the various job roles that have been established to enable social workers to choose their next career move according to their strengths.

“The recently established senior practitioner role helps well qualified practitioners continue to ensure that children feel the benefits of our strategies, while being rewarded for their experience. This higher grade role complements team manager and assistant team managers out in the localities.”

In addition, Devon is investing in the development of newly qualified social workers, through a well-established Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) role, which is in place to ensure that all newly qualified social workers receive dedicated, consistent and effective support in their first year of practice, enabling them to approach their career in social work with confidence.

“Culling unnecessary bureaucracy has also added value to our social work practice,” says Debs. “Devon County Council is committed to reducing case loads and because we recognise the beautiful and diverse geography of Devon can lead to long travel times, we’re working towards reducing case loads to an average of 17 to accommodate this factor.”

So how will Devon know it has reached its destination? Debs is adamant that Devon’s highest achievement is an improved outcome for the children and young people in the county: “Responding to our children’s needs will continue to be the measure of our success.”

For more information and to view job vacancies visit our social work website

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