Back to basics – doing the right thing

A feature sponsored by Worcestershire County Council

Transforming the workforce

In 2012 the Worcestershire Social Care Service decided that a radical transformation was required in order to have a workforce fit for the future. The council invested in resources for a review of the whole system with a view to ensuring that social workers could do the right thing at the right time for the right children – there was no point in doing the wrong thing better.

It took us a year to consult and develop the service, another year to make the changes whilst keeping children safe, and another year to recruit the right staff. In 2015, we are just starting to realise our ambition for the service. We still have a long way to go to provide the outstanding service we want for our children and young people but we are on the right track and our workforce is with us.

Understanding the workforce to make improvements

Ann Marie Lockley, Children’s Services HR Manager said: “We carried out a rigorous feedback exercise to understand the needs of our social workers, both from current staff and those who have left us. This was a great eye-opener for us and allowed us to make a range of improvements to help social workers do their jobs more efficiently and spend more time with children and families.”

After consulting our staff, children and families and partners, these were the key drivers for the redesign:

  • Shorter decision-making pathways
  • The system should support the child’s journey
  • Best use of technology
  • More time for direct work
  • Manageable workloads
  • Working with local partners
  • Knowing what the right thing is to do

Principal social worker, Jill Stephenson said “Our team managers work closely with their teams and follow children from referral right through to implementing the final plan. Team managers are pivotal to our success and we re-graded them to reflect this. Managers need to be of high quality and be able to work closely with the other agencies in their ‘patch’ to drive plans and achieve ambitious outcomes for children.”

We also realised we needed to engage our staff in the feedback after the redesign about our support services to understand what we needed. We developed a programme for support staff called ‘walking in the shoes of a social worker’, and devised feedback loops – ‘you said, we did’, health checks and staff events. We kept asking whilst remaining clear about the non-negotiables and reminding our staff of the overarching vision and priorities.

Things we learnt

  • Focus on basic practice: We had so many elements of the re-design to progress and embed we didn’t give enough attention to this at the beginning. It was also hard to do until we recruited people to the permanent posts.
  • Things will go wrong: The first day we all relocated to one place, all the systems crashed and this hadn’t been anticipated.
  • Keep your partners in the loop: We kept children safe by ensuring we listened to our partners and responded swiftly when they escalated concerns

Our successes

  • We focussed on resourcing the right workforce to meet our needs rather than make the re-design fit around existing people in posts.
  • We filled most of our team manager posts by being very choosy with a challenging selection process that recruits have said was really empowering as they felt specially chosen. Out of 23 posts on the front line we have only three vacancies remaining and are actively recruiting again to these posts
  • We created a principal social worker who also had a team of advanced social work practitioners. This team is now highly valued across the service and has been recognised as an effective model to support best practice at a national level and by a peer review.
  • Locality working has helped us meet need – we work closely with local schools, early help providers and children’s centres and have pods of social workers in areas of highest demand

Our challenges

  • It took us longer than we expected to fill all our new social work posts (even with a market forces increment) and so in 2014 we decided to focus on recruiting more newly qualified social workers and put in the extra support. This has been successful and we have good feedback from our ASYEs.
  • We thought that our early help strategy and placing a team of experienced social workers at our ‘front door’ would help to reduce the need for referral to social care, but it has increased. This has had a knock-on effect on caseloads. Most of our social workers do have caseloads between 15-25 (18 maximum for ASYEs) but out of 145 social workers we still have 40 over this measure – although 50% of these by only one or two children. We monitor this weekly and are taking steps to support individual workers and address the distribution of resources equitably.
  • We are looking again at our early help strategy – now named the Prevention and Intervention Strategy and including all our partners. We are also challenging ourselves on our thresholds and progression of assessments and plans.

The future

We have had further reviews of our structure and have strengthened the children’s cervices senior leadership team. We are in the midst of living and breathing a ‘back to basics’ improvement programme to give us the strong practice base on which to take the service forward. This has already had positive feedback from social workers, team managers and partners, and is having a positive impact on keeping our children safe.

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