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Dorset County Council

In the spotlight

Social work reinvigorated: how Dorset is making social work all about practice not process

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A feature sponsored by Dorset County Council

If there was ever a time to be a social worker in Dorset – that time is now.

Like most of the country, Dorset has seen rising demand for children’s social care but how it is responding to that challenge is different.

Dorset’s response is its Reinvigorating Social Work programme, which seeks to empower social workers by giving them the time, the space and the support they need to improve outcomes for children first time around.

“Getting it right first time round sounds simple doesn’t it?” says Sara Tough, corporate director for children, adults and communities at Dorset County Council.

“Yet, as social workers, we often find ourselves dealing with the same families over and over again, unable to break the re-referral cycle.”

Time and resources

The Reinvigorating Social Work programme, she explains, is about freeing Dorset’s social workers from the processes that make breaking that cycle harder.

“Our staff are dedicated to helping children, but they`ve said they feel they lack autonomy and that our processes are too bureaucratic,” she says.

“So we`re investing in our social workers. If we can support them by giving them the time and resources to do the job to the best of their ability, then we will be making a difference to children’s lives – which is ultimately why we are here.”

Reinvigorating social work

Backed with £2m from the Department for Education, Dorset’s Reinvigorating Social Work programme involves:

  • Embedding a relationship-based approach to working with children and families.
  • Building social work accountability and autonomy around better outcomes for children.
  • Training, coaching, and the use of research and appreciative enquiry for all social workers and managers.
  • Using restorative practice to focus more on families’ strengths, joint problem solving, and partnership working.
  • Creating social work forums for sharing best practice (action learning).
  • Promoting the development of direct work skills with children and young people.

Be part of the change

It is an ambitious programme and that is why the council is now recruiting a team of six level 3 social workers, plus a team manager, to drive the changes.

The team will work across the county to help manage caseloads while staff take part in the programme.

The team will also play a key role in implementing new ways of working through coaching and mentoring other social workers in Dorset.

“This is about creating the right environment for great social work,” says Dr Andy Gill, who is leading the programme.

“We’re looking for people with an excellent track record of on taking time to build relationships with families and improving outcomes for the child.

Less process, more practice

“We want to get to a point where there are better outcomes for children, fewer children in care and our social workers go home at the end of the day feeling that they`ve really made a difference.

“If you think you can help us get back to basics by focusing less on process and more on reflective practice and professional judgment, please get in touch.”

Find out more about joining the Reinvigorating Social Work team.