Excellence Network praises teams for training and development

Skills development as much as training features in the entries in this category. But it is not an “inside job”, with skills development within the workforce that is showcased. Many entries show social workers offering training to people who have used services. Supporting people as witnesses and working with women in psychosocial programmes about domestic violence are clear signs that many social workers are already working in ways that promote user choice and control.

Social workers look set to be well prepared to develop personalised approaches and already have skills in helping people make difficult decisions. That is what choice is about it is not simply a matter of preferences from a desirable menu.

Recruitment crisis

The entries in this section also reveal ways in which social workers themselves have responded to the crisis in recruitment in the profession and other parts of human service work. They seem determined that the extra investment in qualifying training for social workers across the UK does not just lead us next to a crisis in retention.

Long before newly qualified status for social work was a gleam in the eyes of government departments, some local authorities have seen the sense of supporting new recruits and providing opportunities for experienced social workers to invest in the profession’s future through work that recognises their expertise and commitment.

Likewise, the entries reveal that the strategies of tomorrow are often only refining and making today’s good practice more widespread. Take the example of training that is person-centred but also staff- and care home-centred too. The new dementia strategy should not convey the impression that dementia care is a training desert. It is easy to blame staff for their apparent lack of warmth and respect for people with dementia, but it is often little short of miraculous how staff who are poorly paid and in stressful work manage to care for people and also want to develop their skills and those of their colleagues.

The awards are focused on front-line staff and people using services for they are the bulk of the workforce. Next year, perhaps, we might see more about what works in training for managers. And, perhaps, who trains the trainers to adapt to frequent shifts in policy and practice? Training for politicians at local level might also be an area where investment would be welcome.

Diverse learning methods

The entries that are judged best reveal the liveliness of the country’s training enterprises. Methods of adult learning are diverse and they do not rely on written material, assessments and hurdles. How refreshing that is to have training as something that is not passed or failed. The entries are not explicit about their method, and theory gets rather short shift but underpinning them all are sound adult learning principles. Among these are that adult learning is not just about employment and workforce development. Everyone who participates in training can gain much for themself but also add something to society in terms of helping people to be better educated, more critical, more engaged and more tolerant. It will be Adult Learners’ Week from 17 May. That’s another reason to celebrate the contribution of the winning entries.

Training is everybody’s business and the new workforce strategies in children’s and adults’ services may offer training providers new resources. These would build on fertile ground. In the same way as outcomes are more often talked about as a way to focus activity (and the entries give good examples of this approach), so too might outcomes be usefully thought about in the context of training. I would argue that these should not just be about the particular workforce, or the company or sector, but should make the “public good” element of training just as visible.

Every person who has used services, every carer, every care worker and every social worker and manager stands to gain from training in their working and professional lives. And, even more, the rest of us do too.

Jill Manthorpe is professor of social work at King’s College London and director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit

Children and families

Supporting Children Team

We have all heard the horror stories: new social workers being dumped with 20 files of complex cases on their first day at work, longstanding practitioners criticised and feeling unsupported. The Supporting Children Team (SCT) at Conwy Council in Wales recognises these problems and is trying to do things differently. It places a huge emphasis on coaching, training and supporting staff with the aim of keeping employees on board for longer.

The SCT has put much effort into ensuring that less experienced social workers are given access to support by those who have been longer on the job. The team’s two principal practitioners supervise staff who are engaged in court-related work while its two senior practitioners supervise staff working with children who are classified as looked-after or in need of protection.

Team members, who are all based together, believe that short lines of communication have helped contribute to their stable and inclusive working environment. They also praise the SCT’s training department which, they say, keeps them up to date with the latest skills and research.

Corina Modderman, senior practitioner at the SCT, says: “Social work in children’s services is hard enough, with the responsibility of making decisions which have a major impact on people’s lives. Without the support from colleagues, supervisors, adequate training and available resources it would be an impossible job.”

Mental health

Wings domestic abuse service

One in four women experience domestic violence at least once in their life. These women are five times more likely to commit suicide and three times more likely to be diagnosed with a depressive or psychotic episode. Wings – Women in Need Growing Stronger – supports individuals in Dudley, West Midlands, who have the psychological effects of abusive relationships. They have done this by improving training and development for users and service providers alike.

The team devised a 10-week group programme to empower women who had suffered domestic abuse to understand the impact of their experience on their mental health. Wing’s team of three workers and two sessional employees have completed eight of these programmes in the past two years. The team found that establishing a post-programme user support group helped reinforce the women’s learning and progress.

Wings has also been involved in training and development in the wider community. Service users have worked with police to produce a staff training video. The team has also worked in partnership with neighbourhood centres to help develop services for women suffering abuse and with child and adolescent mental health teams to develop therapeutic programmes.

A mental health social worker at Wings says: “Women who experience feelings of worthlessness, guilt, self-blame and powerlessness as a result of domestic abuse often receive wrong diagnoses for their mental ill health. They can be drawn into secondary care where abuse can be replicated through inappropriate treatment as relevant questions are left unasked. Wings is working to provide women with a positive alternative.”


Central Performance Team

Quality assurance is often seen as an irritating “addition to the day job”. The Central Performance Team (CPT) in Staffordshire is challenging that perception by embedding accountability for performance management on the front line.

CPT’s aim was to promote ownership over newly introduced quality standards by training practitioners to conduct case file audits of their teams. To achieve this, they held nine county-wide workshops, giving managers a chance to carry out two live case file audits using a bespoke self-evaluation toolkit. Attendance rates were high and evaluation forms reported excellent feedback. Attendants were grateful to have their fears about the new IT systems demystified by IT support.

New quality assurance programmes were implemented in Staffordshire in January and are co-ordinated locally with district performance managers. The support of operational managers was a key element in ensuring the successful implementation of this scheme.

The Central Performance Team conducts periodic ad hoc audits of adult social care teams to ensure accountability, while continuing to offer support and guidance on request. By continuing to work closely with managers and front-line staff, CPT has helped practitioners embrace a new quality assurance framework at a time of great organisational change.

Older people

Dementia Specialist Team

In 2006, the Anchor Trust created the Dementia Specialist Team (DST) to improve its residential and domiciliary care services in London. The team was charged with designing a more co-ordinated and evidence-based system of training and development. The DST’s approach to designing these resources was particularly effective because it consulted service users and staff equally.

After its research, DST brought in an Introduction to Dementia Care course which has since been taken by 4,000 care home staff, including those who do not deliver direct care. For practitioners who provide a specialist dementia service, there is an additional five-day course on Developing Dementia Care Practice and Training.

The Dementia Specialist Team is now seen as an expert resource within Anchor. Each of the organisation’s care specialists has a key contact with a member of the DST as well as access to a dementia resource file that is up to date, relevant and ­informative. A dedicated intranet site has been created with information on training, ­evidence-based practice and research. Such practices are improving every aspect of the service: even the walls of Anchor’s homes are being decorated in accordance with the ­latest developments in dementia care, with due consideration being given to colour ­contrast.

Learning disabilities

Investigations Support Unit

For those with learning disabilities, justice can often be inaccessible. Criminal justice agency processes and expectations can present major barriers to obtaining the evidence necessary for full and fair trials. Social workers at the Investigations Support Unit (ISU) at Liverpool Council have developed a successful model of Witness Support, Preparation and Profiling (WSP&P) to help people with learning disabilities and criminal justice services obtain better evidence.

With extensive national endorsement, the unit has undertaken a series of training events to promote their approach. Since February 2005, the ISU’s team of five has delivered 28 WSP&P training events to audiences ranging from Age Concern to police CIDs.

The team is particularly proud of its training requests from lawyers: ISU has given presentations to the Inns of Court and the Criminal Bar Association as well as a number of judges. In June, the team will present a conference about WSP&P for statutory and voluntary workers in Toronto, Canada.

What the judges said

Chris Hanvey, operations director, Barnardo’s: “The Supporting Children Team has put a lot of emphasis on coaching, training and supporting staff over a sustained period of time. Admirably, research knowledge is part of everyday practice.”

Sue Bott, strategic director of the National Centre for Independent Living: “The Central Performance Team took on the ultimate difficult task – making quality assurance relevant and exciting to front-line staff – and succeeded.”

Kathryn Stone, chief executive of Voice UK: “The Investigations Support Unit shows the importance of tenacity because making any inroads in the criminal justice system is hard and they have made sure people with learning disabilities have equality of access to the criminal justice system – a real achievement.”

The other judges were Gary Fitzgerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse, and Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation

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