Social Worker of the Year Awards 2015: The Winners

Full details of who won what at this year's social work awards

Lucas Farndale accepts the 'Outstanding Contribution to Social Work' award on behalf of his grandparents Bob and Annette Holman

A social worker who played an instrumental role in improving forensic mental health services for young people has become the Social Worker of the Year for 2015.

Helen Pye, from the South West Yorkshire NHS Partnership Foundation Trust, also scooped the award for Mental Health Social Worker of the Year. She was among 16 individuals and teams who were recognised for their outstanding achievements at this year’s awards ceremony in London.

Other winners include Anju Bhatti, of Optalis, for the Lifetime Achievement Award and Bob and Annette Holman, a couple who have dedicated their lives to supporting others, for the Outstanding Contribution to Social Work Award.

Here’s the full list of winners:


Overall Social Worker of the Year and Mental Health Social Worker of the Year: Helen Pye, South West Yorkshire NHS Partnership Foundation Trust.

Helen was the only nominee to receive top marks from all the judges and it’s not difficult to see why. Her work to improve the experiences of young people accessing forensic mental health services is outstanding.

Since joining the South West Yorkshire NHS Partnership Foundation Trust in 2012, Helen has played a significant role in implementing harmful sexual behaviour services in secure institutions. This involved adapting the team’s community service model and giving other agencies the option to refer directly into services – a change that Helen championed from the outset. She was praised by her colleagues for breaking down barriers and winning over health and prison colleagues, ensuring more meaningful interventions for young people.

She has since been involved in practice improvements at a national level and was the only social worker invited to advise the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence on the Harmful Sexual Behaviour draft guidance.

The trustees praised Helen for the “enormous impact” she has made on practice and the clear benefits this has brought to her service users. She has negotiated the challenges of being the only social worker in a team of health professionals with admirable skill and determination and is truly deserving of the ‘Overall Social Worker of the Year 2015’ title.


Outstanding Contribution to Social Work: Bob & Annette Holman, Family Action in Rogerfield and Easterhouse

Bob and Annette Holman embody community social work. They have devoted their lives to supporting others, while campaigning tirelessly against poverty and inequality in society.

The couple met when they were both social studies students on work placement and later became a child care officer and medical social worker respectively. In the 1970s, they moved into academia but it wasn’t long before the pair gave up the comfortable lifestyle that came with it and moved with their young family to one of Bath’s most impoverished estates – Southdown. Here, they ran a successful community project for nearly a decade.

In 1987, Bob and Annette returned to Glasgow – Annette’s home town – and helped to establish community organisation, Family Action in Rogerfield and Easterhouse (FARE). Now in its 25th year, FARE has played a key role in reducing gang-related crime on the estates and has changed the lives of hundreds of young people.

As Ray Jones, awards trustee and friend of the couple, put it, ‘not many couples contribute in the way that Bob and Annette have contributed together – they are a real team’. They have lived their lives based on their Christian faith and strong social values and are not just champions for social workers, but also for the families and communities they work alongside.

IMG_1458 ABLifetime Achievement Award: Anju Bhatti, Optalis

“You can’t help but be moved by Anju’s entry” were the judges’ words when reading the nominations for the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Anju came to England in 1972 as a refugee from Uganda. After becoming a carer for her mother and sister, she trained as a nurse before qualifying as a social worker in 1992. She is currently part of the Brokerage and Professional Support service at Optalis, an LATC owned by Wokingham Borough Council. Her vast experience and unwavering dedication means she is a highly valued and well respected member of her team. She combines her social work and nursing skills to achieve consistently positive outcomes for service users, working tirelessly to help others in their lives.

Anju is also a keen volunteer and in 2007 she set up Vision Bharat UK, a charity which provides eye care to under privileged communities across India. Every year she uses her annual leave to visit India and assist in the charity’s eye camps.

Recently she spent three month’s volunteering for Help Age India in Mumbai, setting up free health camps and medical units to support older people, providing practical help to the local community and advising local groups and the police on recommended services and safeguarding protocol.

Harprit_Rai,_Adult_SW[1]Adult Social Worker of the Year: Harprit Rai, Birmingham City Council

Harprit’s “sheer determination” in the face of very difficult circumstances impressed the judges. Despite only qualifying in 2009, Harprit has excelled in Birmingham Council’s transitions team – not an area of practice that is easy to get to grips with – and her skilful management of complex cases has resulted in some very positive outcomes for the young people she works with.

One notable example was Harprit’s involvement in obtaining a marriage annulment for one of her service users, who was deemed not to have the capacity to agree to the event taking place. Harprit used the Mental Capacity Act to protect her client’s rights as a vulnerable adult, as well as supporting the family through court proceedings. She also demonstrated an exceptional ability “to think outside the box” – by tracking down a postman in rural Pakistan – when asked by the judge to obtain the required proof that the service user’s wife had been informed of the annulment.

Harprit has since been appointed to the first level management position of senior practitioner in the transitions service, where she is clearly a valued and respected team member. As one colleague commented, “her continued presence, knowledge and expertise” is much appreciated.

Joy_Manley,_Children's_SW[1]Children’s Social Worker of the Year: Joy Manley, Cafcass

“Joy has the perfect name for what she brought to us, and she helped make us a family”. This is just one of the moving testimonies from Joy Manley’s awards entry, which describes a practitioner who has made a hugely positive impact on the lives of children and families in her care.

Joy was inspired to embark on a career in social work after a chance meeting with a qualified practitioner during an admission to hospital. She qualified in 1979 and joined a medical social work team, but quickly realised she was destined to work with children and young people.

She later worked in adoption services at the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Families Association (SSAFA), an armed forces charity, and as an independent social worker. She joined Cafcass in 2009. Here, Joy has been instrumental in driving practice improvements, and her ability to communicate effectively with parents and gain the trust and respect of children is highly valued by her colleagues. She has also played an active role in mentoring less experienced practitioners and her energy, pride and dedication to the profession were commended by the judges.

IMG_0363[1]Newly Qualified Adults Social Worker of the Year: Elizabeth Spencer, Birmingham City Council

Supporting young people to transition from children’s to adult services is a difficult area of social work practice but newly qualified practitioner Elizabeth has faced the challenges head on.

After just a few months in post, Elizabeth was assigned a particularly complex case involving a service user who had sustained life-limiting injuries in a fire caused by another family member. By providing extensive emotional and practical support, Elizabeth helped the service user regain confidence, return to college and obtain a direct payment that would meet her personal care needs. Elizabeth’s colleagues described her handling of this case as a “testimony to the dedication and support she provides to all individuals on her caseload”.

Elizabeth’s commitment to improving practice standards also made her nomination stand out. She has utilised research from her dissertation – which looked at the gaps in transitions services for young people with special educational needs – to inform her practice and also gave a successful presentation on the transitions model to an audience of over 50 professionals.

Elizabeth’s ability to manage complex cases really spoke to the judges and they praised her for demonstrating “real leadership skills” at such an early stage in her career.

Stephanie_MillseditsNewly Qualified Children’s Social Worker of the Year: Stephanie Mills, Rochdale Borough Council

Stephanie was a standout winner for the judges and it’s not difficult to see why. Since joining Rochdale Council in September 2014, she has been assigned a series of complex cases that would have proved testing for any practitioner, let alone a newly qualified worker. But she has approached them all with the same enthusiasm, confidence and integrity.

One notable example is when a service user on Stephanie’s caseload disclosed that she had been abused by her foster carer. This case was emotionally challenging for all involved but Stephanie persevered and has been successful in helping the young person to open up about her experiences, rebuild her self-esteem and begin to trust those around her again. The positive impact Stephanie had on this service user was evidenced in a moving testimonial, which described her as “one of the best social workers you could ever have”.

Stephanie’s nomination described a reflective practitioner who takes full advantage of supervision to further her professional development. She has a real talent for establishing rapport and relationships with young people, even in the most difficult circumstances, and the judges praised her for always asking the question: “Would this be good enough for my child?”


Student Social Worker of the Year: Tonia Dubidat, University of Birmingham

The judges described Tonia as “excellent from all angles” and it was clear from her nomination that she has made an equally good impression on the professionals and service users she’s worked with while studying an MA in social work at the University of Birmingham.

Tonia’s mum, who is also a frontline practitioner, inspired her to pursue a career in social work. To help prepare for working directly with children, Tonia worked as a professional contact worker at Sandwell Council before commencing her studies. Since joining the course she has excelled in her academic modules and always ensures the voice of the child is at the heart of her work.

A notable achievement is the feedback Tonia received while on placement with Cafcass, where she was assigned a difficult private law case. Tonia demonstrated a clear understanding of the

complexities of the case and built a trusting relationship with the parents, which ensured they respected her power to make decisions. Her court report was commended by both barristers but also by a judge who has never complimented the work of Cafcass before. This performance left managers at Cafcass with “no doubt” Tonia would develop into an outstanding practitioner.


Team Leader of the Year (Adults): David Minto, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Northumberland County Council

David’s ability to stay in touch with frontline practice while continuing to effect positive change at a senior level made him a standout winner for this category.

In his role as operations manager of a complex adult social care service in West Northumberland, David has mastered the challenges of integration and ensured that both he and his team are respected and valued by their NHS colleagues. He is committed to service improvement – even finding the time to complete an MSc on the topic alongside the demands of his day-to-day role – and has facilitated a range of opportunities to share best practice.

Another recent achievement has been David’s work to enhance social work support for people at the end of their lives. After recognising the need for improvements in this area, David successfully secured funding from Macmillan Cancer Support to create a specialist palliative care team. His colleagues commented that David’s “excellent social work reasoning” played a key part in this development.

The importance David places on the morale and professional development of his staff also shone through his entry. As one judge put it, David’s contribution to social work “goes way beyond” what you’d expect of a leader.

MaureeneditsTeam Leader of the Year (Children’s): Maureen Roscoe-Goulson, Suffolk County Council 

The fact that Maureen is Suffolk’s longest-serving frontline manager speaks volumes about the aptitude she has for this role. Her nomination highlighted an excellent track record in turning around failing teams, securing positive feedback from Ofsted and coping with organisational change. But perhaps most commendable of all was Maureen’s investment in her staff.

The “outstanding testimonials” that accompanied her nomination spoke of a manager who is committed to supervision and professional development, far beyond what is expected of her. She has instilled her staff with confidence and as well as operating an open door policy, Maureen ensures she sits down for individual case supervision with her social workers every four weeks. This gives them crucial time to reflect on all cases, not just the high profile ones.

Despite managing the county’s busiest children’s social care team, Maureen has also found time to act as an onsite supervisor for third year social work students – many of whom opt to return to her team after qualifying. Her supportive approach is clearly valued by all who work for her and this is further evidenced by the retention rates for her team – there are still no vacancies.


Practice Educator of the Year: Rob Hawley and Lisa Beris, Derby City Council

In a first for the Social Worker of the Year Awards, this year’s accolade for Practice Educator of the Year was scooped by Lisa Beris and Rob Hawley, following a joint nomination.

Lisa and Rob met 10 years ago in the learning disability service at Derby Council and have collaborated as practice educators since 2008. Lisa is a member of the Ordinary Lives team, which provides support to people living in residential care, while Rob is on the transitions team.

A particularly impressive element of their nomination was the pair’s commitment to promoting continuing professional development opportunities for their students and colleagues. This has included providing practical support on the Care Act 2014, hosting regular webinars on key adult social care issues, and developing a reflective practice group where social workers have the space to share best practice and discuss difficult cases.

Lisa and Rob’s shared passion for social work has ensured they have a strong working relationship and they were praised by colleagues for investing their own time in practice education. This was evidenced by their recent completion of ‘dementia champions’ training during a period of annual leave. As one student commented, “their dedication is something to be admired”.


Principal Social Worker of the Year: Rob Mitchell, Calderdale Council

When Rob Mitchell bounded into his manager’s office to tell her about the principal social worker role for adult social care, she knew he was the man for the job.

Rob has an infectious passion for social work and has worked tirelessly to raise the profile of the profession at both a national and regional level. Anyone who follows Rob on Twitter (SocialWorkOps) will know that he has a strong social media presence and is often contributing to the debate on social work reform, as well as sharing knowledge and resources.

Closer to home, Rob’s leadership has had a profound impact on raising the status and professional standing of adult social work within Calderdale Council. He has successfully grown the budget for social workers from £2m to £3.5m in the last three years and has invested in employment opportunities for newly qualified practitioners, social work traineeships for care leavers and training for six new practice educators.

Social workers under Rob’s management also report feeling empowered and having a greater say in their practice – a testament to all he has achieved. As one judge commented, “we need people who make this role come alive – Rob’s done that”.


Adults Team of the Year: Community Offer Team, Barnet Council

Barnet’s Community Offer Team was set up with the aim of finding community alternatives to traditional care packages, in order to reduce financial pressures on the council’s adult social care department. Having achieved £500,000 worth of savings in the first year of operation, the team is well on the way to realising that aim and is now a permanent fixture in the directorate.

The team comprises social workers, occupational therapists, telecare advisers and assessment and enablement workers, who have worked together to improve their knowledge of voluntary sector provision and preventative services. The team has been rigorous in recording its impact and, despite facing criticism from some families for being “a cover for cutting services”, it has proved its worth by showing it is always working in the best interests of the service user.

The judges were particularly impressed by the ethos of the team, the multi-disciplinary approach and the shift towards social workers playing a key role in helping people to access services in the community.

IMG_1980[1]Children’s Team of the Year: Special Guardianship Order Support Team, Essex County Council

‘From small beginnings come great things’ is the phrase that comes to mind when reading the nomination for Essex’s Special Guardianship Order (SGO) support team. Launched in 2005, the team started their journey working with just one family subject to a SGO. Now, they’ve worked with over 300 families and have grown into a multi-skilled and experienced team of 11.

At the heart of the team’s success is partnership working. They have involved special guardians in service development from day one and run regular groups across the county to provide opportunities for positive peer support. This has boosted self-esteem and reduced isolation among the client group, many of whom had little faith in social services prior to the team’s involvement.

Staff have also demonstrated empathy and professionalism when dealing with a range of complex issues including family dynamics, contact and health. They have taken these challenges in their stride and commission specialist training when necessary to enhance their skills. As one of the first of their kind in the country, the team have been successful in developing a model that offers real benefits to their service users, providing a future blueprint for others.

IMG_0371_(3)[1]Creative and Innovative Social Work Practice: Hospital Extended Services, Birmingham City Council

Birmingham’s Hospital Extended Services initiative was introduced after commissioners recognised social workers were at risk of burnout due to an increasing number of referrals. They knew it was time for a radical change but were clear it should be one with social workers at the heart of it. The work has involved rolling out a series of extended hospital schemes that protect the skills, knowledge and expertise of social workers, while offering better outcomes for older people.

One notable example is the extension of social work provision to cover seven days a week – a change that is on the horizon for practitioners across the UK as health and social care services join together. With no additional funding available, Birmingham has relied entirely on the goodwill of 16 volunteers to make it happen. The experienced social workers are based across eight hospital sites and have already achieved an increase in more timely discharges from hospital.

Birmingham’s commitment to the profession shone through this application and, despite having to change the minds of those who believe social workers have no place in a medical setting, they have succeeded in bringing hospital social work back under the spotlight for all the right reasons.

Cafcass[1]Best Social Work Employer: Cafcass

As the largest single employer of social workers in England, Cafcass has had its work cut out in ensuring a workforce that is both empowered and engaged. But through dedication and creativity, the organisation has made strides forward and its nomination had the results to prove it.

Cafcass’s work to improve the health and wellbeing of its staff group was particularly impressive. Recognising the increasing pressures social workers are under, the organisation introduced an employer-funded health plan. This offers resilience training, access to £900 worth of treatments per person per year, counselling and, more recently, seminars and one-to-one consultations with health and wellbeing specialists. In addition, the organisation has cut case bureaucracy by bringing all case files online and creating an ‘eHR’ programme that allows managers to focus on frontline social work, rather than people-related admin. The impact these initiatives have had is profound, with the sickness rate among Cafcass social workers reducing by 46% over the last five years.

In 2014-15, Cafcass also offered 72 practice placements and set up a ‘placement hub’ for 11 students in Manchester, in partnership with three universities, demonstrating a clear commitment to the next generation of social work.





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8 Responses to Social Worker of the Year Awards 2015: The Winners

  1. Lee Hines November 29, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

    Wonderful to see Bob Holman getting Lifetime Achievement Award. He inspired us all as one of our professional advisers when Community Care magazine was launched in 1974. Sometimes the Good Guys win!
    Lee Brown
    Deputy Editor

  2. CK December 1, 2015 at 1:28 pm #

    Every year, when presented with articles like this, I wrestle with feelings of unease. It’s the same feeling I get when I read things about ‘standing up for social work’ and ‘social work heroes’. Space doesn’t permit me to explore the reasons for these feelings here. Suffice it to say it has to do with issues of power, professional entitlement, state intervention and the fact that social workers are (most often) paid from the public purse to do the things they do, for better or worse.

    This led me to consider why other ‘helping’ or public servise professions don’t appear to have similar awards. I can find no evidence in this country of policeman/fire fighter/paramedic/doctor/OT or even serviceman of the year. What is it about social work and social workers that apprently needs this unseemly jamboree of backslapping for doing the job we chose and which the public pays us to do?

    My ‘social work heroes’ are those who contend with our presence in their lives and what that signifies.

    • Philip December 2, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

      Bloody hell CK – cheer up!

      It’s just a celebration for people whose day to day life at work is usually anything but celebratory.

      • CK December 2, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

        I get that, Phillip. That’s why I wrestle with those feelings. But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?

        And, in a last-ditch effort to lighten the tone, let’s open the floor to suggestions as to jobs where day to life at work IS celebratory. . .

    • DB December 3, 2015 at 10:17 am #

      I agree completely with CK. Also, its easy to achieve any of these awards if you work in a supportive environment that provides you with the right amount of nurturing to grow. For me the real award is to staff who are working tirelessly to make a difference despite colleagues around them going off sick but you refuse to break simply because you know how much it will affect your service users. These are the real heroes in my book and they often go unnoticed.

  3. Lee December 2, 2015 at 8:24 pm #

    I agree the social work awards are an acknowledgement of the work and support offered by practitioners in challenging and turbulent environments. I udnerstand the unease and would offer the perspective that as public servants humility and humanity are key to all our social workers in their practice.

    The awards are testimony to this and indeed are promoting social work in a unique and diginified way

    • CK December 3, 2015 at 4:56 pm #

      What’s unique about an awards ceremony?

      Where’s the humility in social workers nominating and giving awards to each other?

      Shouldn’t users of social work have a stake in these awards?

  4. LS December 2, 2015 at 8:32 pm #

    TES teaching awards, Pearson teaching awards, police bravery awards police federation etc. Etc.