A newly qualified children’s social worker who was praised by the country’s top family judge has become the Social Worker of the Year for 2014.
Zahraa Adam, from Essex County Council, also scooped the award for Newly Qualifed Children’s Social Worker of the Year. She was amongst 16 individuals and teams who were recognised for their outstanding contributions at this year’s awards ceremony at the Lancaster Hotel in London.
For the first time this year the awards also included categories recognising the work of student, principal and mental health social workers
Other winners include Maureen Carson, formally of Southwark Council, for the Lifetime Achievement Award and Faye Wilson, chair of BASW’s mental health forum, for the Outstanding Contribution to Social Work Award.
Here’s the full list of winners, you can read more about their achievements below:
- Overall Social Worker of the Year: Zahraa Adam, Essex County Council
- NQSW of the Year (Children’s): Zahraa Adam, Essex County Council
- NQSW of the Year (Adults): Jamie Stone, Hertfordshire County Council
- Children’s Social Worker of the Year: Angela Adams, Cafcass
- Adults Social Worker of the Year: Joanne Lowe, Birmingham City Council
- Mental Health Social Worker of the Year: Wendy Whitaker, Southwark Council and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust
- Practice Teacher of the Year: Dave Thomas, Central Bedfordshire Council
- Student Social Worker of the Year: Lindsey Wanless, University of Nottingham
- Principal Social Worker of the Year: Margaret Barrett, Gateshead Council
- Creative and Innovative Social Work Practice: Family Support Group Team, SSAFA
- Team of the Year (Children’s): Achieving for Children Referral and Assessment Team, London Borough of Richmond
- Team Leader of the Year (Children’s): Heidi Crampton, Cafcass
- Team of the Year (Adults): End of Life Social Work team, Calderdale Council
- Team Leader of the Year (Adults): Julia Parfitt, Birmingham City Council
- Best Social Work Employer: Children’s Social Care team, North Yorkshire County Council
- Outstanding Contribution to Social Work: Faye Wilson, BASW
- Lifetime Achievement Award: Maureen Carson, retired social worker
It’s not difficult to see why Zahraa Adam, a newly qualified social worker on Essex’s Children in Care team, won not one but two accolades at tonight’s event. Described as possessing “genuine vitality and warmth”, Zahraa has inspired service users and colleagues with her creative approach to practice. A notable example is her attempt to engage her own Muslim community with fostering, after recognising the difficulties in matching unaccompanied asylum-seeking children with carers. Zahraa researched and laminated sayings from the Koran that linked with the underlying values of fostering and, armed with cupcakes and two team managers, she headed to the Mosque to share information with families.
Her achievements don’t stop there. When a senior colleague left the team, Zahraa was assigned an adoption case that originally looked straight forward but, after the mother of the child in question contacted the media, it suddenly became high profile. Zahraa managed this situation by sharing her thoughts and feelings with her supervisors and she was later commended by the country’s top family judge, Sir James Munby, for the “detailed and impressive” quality of her written report. As the judges put it, Zahraa has already made an excellent contribution to social work that is comparable with that of more experienced practitioners.
Jamie Stone, a social worker on one of Hertfordshire’s busiest community disability teams, has been commended for his enthusiastic and imaginative approach. This is highlighted in his work with an agoraphobic service user who had had a long line of social workers before Jamie. After seeing the negative impact the illness was having on the service user’s health, Jamie set up a direct payment to enable the service user to purchase a Wii games console with sport and health related games. Before long, this had encouraged him to start taking steps outside of the house. He can now leave his front door and walk to the garage. “This example shows some of the elements of innovation and resilience that Jamie has brought not only to his practice but also to our service,” says one of his colleagues.
In addition to his day-to-day caseload, Jamie has also taken a lead role in promoting voting rights for people with disabilities, an issue close to his heart. He co-led a workshop with a national charity at Hertfordshire’s community conference in March. It was one of the best attended sessions of the day and he is now working to develop a countywide programme. Despite facing significant personal difficulties during his first year in practice, Jamie has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of service users and the judges described his nomination as “loaded with values and integrity”.
Angela Adams started her social work career with the probation service in 1995 and now, nearly twenty years later, she boasts a well-earned reputation within the sector for her influence on social work practice with domestic violence. In her role as family courts advisor at Cafcass, she holds the team portfolio on the topic and supports her colleagues by providing opportunities for reflective practice. This has ensured that all their court recommendations maintain a focus on the child and are underpinned by sound research. Her manager says: “Angela never stops looking for opportunities for self-discovery and continues to challenge herself by taking highly intractable or very complex cases, and will conduct research after research and bring the case for discussion in group supervision to increase her professional knowledge.”
Angela has also coped admirably with organisational challenges. One year after her appointment to Cafcass, the organisation was declared ‘not fit for purpose’ and Ofsted raised significant concerns about its practice. This, combined with the increased demand in services following the death of Peter Connelly, made for a difficult time but Angela’s resilience was instrumental in improving the service. Cafcass achieved a ‘Good’ with ‘Outstanding’ leadership rating from Ofsted earlier this year and she was personally recognised for her skills and knowledge.
As a practitioner who has filled skips, redecorated houses and visited service users every day for a week to ensure they are taking their medication, Joanne’s commitment to helping vulnerable adults is unswerving. A social worker in Birmingham for the last 15 years, Joanne has worked across a range of service user groups including older adults with dementia and mental health. She has worked with a number of students as a practice educator, as well as qualifying as an Approved Mental Health Professional in 2004.
But despite her many achievements, it was her most recent work within a learning disabilities team that inspired colleagues to put her forward for the award. Joanne joined the small team at a time when there was a huge list of complex cases awaiting assessment and she quickly set to work to improve the lives of the most vulnerable groups – hospital in-patients in long stay psychiatric units. She has successfully helped to find suitable placements for these service users, many of whom had been institutionalised for most of their adult life. Alan Lotinga, service director for health and wellbeing at Birmingham, says: “Joanne’s determination, innovation and constant drive to improve practice and outcomes for vulnerable adults in Birmingham are what make her stand out from other social workers.”
“Wendy always makes me feel like there is hope and that it is never too late. She always believed that I could achieve my goal of going to university and would remind me of this whenever she could.” These are the words of just one service user about Wendy Whitaker. Working at the frontline for over 20 years, Wendy is an Approved Mental Health Professional and specialises in supporting people with eating disorders. In her current role on an inpatient ward for adult females, she consistently demonstrates dedication in ensuring a better life for service users and the judges were impressed by her commitment. This is illustrated in her nomination, where colleagues describe her as “outstanding” and a social worker that works late into the night to ensure she is doing everything right when completing mental health assessments. Lyn Romeo, chief social worker for adults, says: “Wendy is a role model for the team with which she works, reflecting the best in direct social work practice.”
Dave Thomas has been hailed as a practice educating ‘legend’ by students, social workers and many of his other colleagues in Central Bedfordshire. An independent practice educator for the last 14 years, Dave currently supports students from the University of Bedfordshire and Central Bedfordshire Council’s Training in Employment and Step Up to Social Work programmes, as well as assessing social workers on the ASYE. And if that wasn’t enough, he still manages to make time to find placement opportunities for all of the student cohorts in the voluntary sector – an achievement that hasn’t gone unnoticed. “His promotion and advocacy for the voluntary sector has been impressive and has resulted in closer links between the authority and local agencies and an increase in the placements and shadowing taken up by us,” says a colleague.
Dave’s “unrivalled support” in helping students with dyslexia and learning disabilities has also been recognised by his co-workers, who believe his experience has enabled many people to better cope with the challenges of social work training. In fact, the impression he has made on the entire student body shone through his nomination and as one student put it: “he’s one in a million”.
“She is a credit to social work.” This is how colleagues at her final placement describe Lindsey Wanless. With a background in frontline children’s social work, and completing her final year of an MA Diploma in social work, Lindsey was understandably apprehensive about undertaking her final placement in a low security psychiatric hospital. However, colleagues described her facing her fears, and the dilemmas that often accompanied her role, “head-on”. She quickly fitted into the clinical team and was so professional, it was hard to believe she was still a student. “Lindsey was particularly good at ensuring that the social work ethos, perspective and values were presented at all times,” says one co-worker.
Her approach to service users was recognised as open and honest and her knowledge of child protection also proved useful in creating a number of excellent risk assessment plans. In one case, she supported a client through court proceedings by liaising with a victim officer and court professionals and helped him progress from “feeling like a vulnerable victim to a survivor with equal rights”.
Principal Social Workers (PSWs) were only introduced to the sector 12 months ago, but Margaret Barrett has already excelled in this role. Responsible for 122 staff and the delivery of assessment and care management in Gateshead, Margaret is involved in social work practice every day. In May, she organised a regional conference for social workers to share her model of practice, which proved particularly valuable for neighbouring authorities yet to appoint a PSW.
She has also driven forward projects to boost morale and enthusiasm for social work, including lunchtime ‘practice shorts’ for staff and a reform board taster group, which looks at ways to meet the employers standards for social workers.
Her service director, David Bunce, says: “It is of great comfort to me to have someone of Margaret’s experience, expertise and dedication supporting me in my role. She is an inspiration and has a genuine desire to ensure the best possible outcomes for the people in our community.”
The Family Support Group Team at military charity SSAFA provides national and regional support groups for over 600 military families. However, one particularly special area of their work is projects with children under 18. In a partnership with Winston’s Wish, the team deliver sessions with young people to support them to grieve. Children are invited to attend special memorial ceremonies where they can place a tribute they have made in remembrance of their parent. This helps to normalise the grieving process and gives the children a sense of control. The team have also worked closely with the Department of Health and Ministry of Defence to introduce children of military personnel to alternative career paths.
Service users play a key role in the organisation and the benefits of this are evident through the testimonies submitted in support of SSAFA’s nomination, which reduced many of the judges to tears. “For the first time in ten years I have felt that I am amongst people who truly understand how I feel and why,” says one. “For me to say thank you doesn’t seem enough, but please accept my sincere thanks for everything.”
One of the many qualities that makes Julia Parfitt a successful team leader is the complete faith she has in the staff members who support her. Managing two social work teams in the Good Hope and Solihull hospitals, Julia actively encourages continuing professional development among her staff and gives them the opportunity to work in areas in which they excel – even appointing ‘champions’ in particular areas of work, like safeguarding, to boost morale.
When the team’s assessment workload increased by 125% she enthusiastically helped them to develop new processes to manage the demand. This work resulted in a reduction in delayed discharges that so exceeded the health target, the directorate was given a financial reward.As one of her social workers’ says: “Julia is very supportive and has helped me develop and grow in my role. Her personality means that the team remains happy and focused and her can-do attitude instils us with confidence.”
In 2012, 56% of people with terminal illnesses in Calderdale were dying in hospital, rather than in the place they would choose, surrounded by family and friends. In an attempt to improve the situation the council, in partnership with the local clinical commissioning group, decided to invest in a new model which put social work at the heart of end of life care. Four staff members were tasked with working in a range of settings to ensure people were supported to make decisions that upheld their rights and allowed them to die with dignity. With 92% of service users now reporting an improvement in their quality of life as a result of the service, it’s clear that social workers on the End of Life team have exceeded expectations.
The team have mastered the challenge of delivering end of life care through an approach to integration, joint-working and co-location, which has gained the respect of many leading clinicians, as well as consistently sharing their love and passion for social work. “Their commitment to the values of our fantastic profession, working alongside colleagues from different professional backgrounds, have had a profound effect on how we deliver social work across adult care within our authority,” says principal social worker, Rob Mitchell. “Having over-achieved on all aspects and with 100% staff retention, it remains the team that other social workers want to join.”
Starting her career in 1997 in South Africa, Heidi Crampton was inspired by a desire to support people in the most disadvantaged communities. While working in frontline child protection, she was also instrumental in creating a number of projects such as setting up rape crisis centres and using a weekly radio slot to promote community involvement and secure funding. Seven years later, she arrived in England and quickly progressed to an assistant team manager working in referrals and assessments and with a children’s disabilities team.
Within six months of joining Cafcass in 2012, she received a ‘Good’ Ofsted rating for her team and has demonstrated admirable skills, knowledge and courage in delivering improvements across safeguarding, team confidence and partnership working. Described by colleagues as leading not just Cafcass but also the profession, the judges were impressed with Heidi’s “persistent and creative” approach to her team.
As one panel member says: “Reading Heidi’s application gave me great pleasure and I found myself smiling throughout – this is someone I would love to work with.”
Stability is one of the core elements of Richmond’s Referral and Assessment team. Run by community interest company, Achieving for Children, the team is completely made up of permanent members of staff and boasts an incredibly low turnover. This has allowed social workers to provide a consistent and high quality service for children and their role in undertaking all statutory single assessments and child protection investigations in the borough has gone from strength to strength, despite the ongoing challenges of frontline children’s social work.
One notable success has been the team’s reduction of drift in cases, which they have achieved by carefully monitoring the outcomes of cases to ensure they are closed, stepped down to early help services or stepped up to child protection teams. This has created manageable caseloads for social workers, which has in turn boosted morale and created a more positive working environment. Annie Hudson, chief of the College of Social Work, commented: “Morale, stability and an extremely high quality of work shone through in this entry. They are an experimental, innovative team that is striving to be a model for the rest of the borough.”
In an admirable turn of events, North Yorkshire have transformed a service that was failing in performance, recruitment and financially into one that’s excellent. After being rated ‘Poor’ by Ofsted in 2009, the Children’s Social Care team had no choice but to turn things around and set to work in overhauling social work practice and putting in place an ambitious new workforce strategy. This involved investment in new social work teams and roles, including the employment of more senior professionals to support newly qualified staff.
Today, the contrast in the quality of their service is remarkable. Ofsted has rated it ‘Good’ and praised its ambition to ensure children have the best start in life. In addition, the Children’s Social Care team is now also rated joint-second in England for their success in reducing the numbers of looked-after children. As one judge puts it: “This is an object lesson in how social work employers should go about improving services and employment standards that are not at level they should be.”
The 17 moving testimonials that accompanied Maureen Carson’s nomination showed nothing less than a social worker whose passion and dedication has far exceeded expectations. Starting out as a social work assistant in Southwark in 1977, Maureen has spent her life specialising in child protection to improve the lives of young people with complex needs. Jane Ching, a colleague from Maureen’s early career, recognises her as a social worker who always had the “personal qualities needed to be able to assess, reflect and assist families with children and to effect change in their lives”.
After qualifying, Maureen completed a two year course on direct work with children before moving to a role with the NSPCC. Her achievements with the charity include the development of communication tools for working therapeutically with abused children. In her role as team manager, she also led a specialist child abuse investigation team working closely with police officers, who admired her “insightful ability and knowledge”. She ensured victims were looked after not only during the court process, but long after leaving care.
Maureen was later headhunted as a fostering panel member and also spent the last years of her career working as an Independent Reviewing Officer in Southwark. In August she was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, but this hasn’t prevented her from making a positive contribution to social work. She recently became involved in a project with St Christopher’s hospice, where she helped children talk about death and reduced their fears about terminal illness. As one former colleague says: “I have managed and taught many social work students and practitioners, but none ever come close to the qualities, professionalism and care of Maureen.”
Community Care is the official media partner of the Social Worker of the Year Awards. Sanctuary Social Care were the headline sponsors and sponsors of the Overall Social Worker of the Year award. Christies Care sponsored the Adult Social Worker of the Year award. The Lifetime Achievement Award was sponsored by BASW and The College of Social Work sponsored the Outstanding Contribution award.