Ringing in the new: The transformation of Wiltshire children’s services

A feature sponsored by Wiltshire Council

The ongoing transformation of Wiltshire children’s services means its social workers are looking ahead to 2015 with a sense of both optimism and anticipation. Here’s how the impact of change has put the team in such a positive frame of mind.

The last three years have seen major changes across social care at Wiltshire council. Fresh approaches and new ways of working have been backed with investment in buildings, facilities, resources and projects. Now these changes have been embedded, social workers on the frontline are seeing the benefits to themselves – and the families they work with.

Getting the priorities right

The big focus at Wiltshire is giving social workers enough time with individual families. The Council’s current recruitment drive is aimed at ensuring caseloads don’t exceed 18 children. Changes to working practices are also making a massive difference,

“We’ve invested heavily in technology and the working environment and now work out of three main hubs and a couple of satellite offices, so staff are able to work much more flexibly than before.” explains Head of HR, Joanne Pitt

The whole team already has a laptop with Wi-Fi connection, enabling flexible and remote working, including from home. 3G notebooks are being trialled by some social work teams and will be launched to all teams later this year, so they can log in even without Wi-Fi.

As Pitt notes:“Staff will be able to do work when they’re out and about rather than having to come back to the office and upload information about cases. And, when they are in the office, the team now have more relaxed, collaborative surroundings. It’s a vibrant place to be. There are lots of places in the hub buildings, like cafés and breakout zones, where you can work more informally.”

Linking with partners and communities

Having launched its multi-agency safeguarding (mash) hub in 2012, effective partnership collaboration is now well-established. Social workers work with police, health and education to triage cases and refer them to the most appropriate service.

According to Terence Herbert, associate director for operational children’s services: “The service delivery model ensures a child should only experience one social worker before moving over to the specialist team and that’s a very important aspect for us. It’s also something that social workers appreciate.”

Herbert adds: “Teams are based in hubs around the county so our safeguarding teams are linked in with the local community and schools. Consequently they get to know the community where they are working.”

Leadership and standards

The restructures and changes within the team have led to cultural changes too, not least in the relationship between senior managers and staff. Sandra Waldron is an assistant team manager in child care who has seen the difference: “What’s nice is that senior managers are more visible, so they’ll come and talk to you and know who you are. It makes you feel valued and part of a team – part of a bigger picture.”

There is now a panel system offering senior management oversight at every stage in the child’s journey. It’s a clear way of showing that accountability and responsibility are shared. “We are fully engaged in making the most difficult decisions that social workers have to face,” Herbert adds, “they are not working in isolation – but as part of a very big team.”

Innovation in professional practice is another cornerstone of the change. Wiltshire’s highly respected single assessment tool document has been a template for other local authorities, whilst a number of risk tools aid staff in the job. An early help service offering preventative interventions is set to reduce the pressure on safeguarding and assessment workers.

Development for empowerment

Changes have also been made to strengthen the development of the team. Focusing on a specific field is far more common. As Sandra Waldron says, “Before it was all generic, so you did a bit of everything, with the specialism you gain more skills.”

There are also greater opportunities to move around to broaden skills and knowledge bases. “We have a robust programme of course and learning activities for all roles,” says organisational development and learning lead, John May.

These activities will be strengthened by the launch of the Wiltshire Institute of Health and Social Care (WIHSC) in September. This new social work ‘academy’ will give staff access to a structured programme of development from newly qualified status right up to the highest levels. Ambitions are high. “We want the WIHSC to be talked about nationally,” May is happy to claim.

For Herbert, development is key to the future of the service. “We’re an organisation that values individuals who are competent, capable and keen to progress. We want our social workers to be at the forefront of child protection. They are autonomous, they are empowered and they don’t have to have everything agreed in triplicate. We want them to be as independent as they possibly can.

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