Maureen Roscoe-Goulson hasn’t forgotten her first team manager job in child protection.
The team she took on in June 2009 had the lowest assessment completion rate in Suffolk at that time. Staff were under pressure and caseloads were high. Social workers were not always confident in their approach to work and staffing levels were unstable.
She had her work cut out.
The first thing Roscoe-Goulson did was get everyone together – the social workers, family support workers, duty coordinators – to talk about their core values.
“Once people understood, or were reminded, why we are in this job, what we were trying to achieve and how we could do it, there was a shared ownership that everyone bought into.”
Roscoe-Goulson says without this, it would have been very difficult to make the changes needed. “We need everyone to want to do it, and to climb out of the difficult times together.”
“I made sure everyone felt responsible – not in a negative way, but actually it’s about giving people confidence to feel that with support, we can do this,” she adds.
“We used the policies and procedures that surround us in a positive way and we came a long way. We achieved a core, stable team, which was replicated in subsequent reorganisations.”
Roscoe-Goulson, who is Suffolk council’s longest serving frontline child protection manager, has since turned around two more social work teams.
She was recognised for her achievements at the 2015 social work awards, where she won Team Leader of the Year for children’s services.
Perhaps surprisingly, social work was a second career choice for Roscoe-Goulson. She previously worked in the hospitality industry, working in different hotels and living in Malta, but says “wanting to do something that made a difference” was always in the back of her mind.
“I wanted to be in a career and a profession that was really meaningful and one that I could grow with and would fulfil me as I got older,” she says.
That’s certainly been the case. Roscoe-Goulson says, for her, social work is not just a profession, it’s a vocation, and she feels privileged to work in children’s services.
She grew up in Ipswich and has spent all 14 years of her social work career within child protection services at Suffolk council. Her first post was in what was then called the Immediate Needs team, which involved shorter-term work with cases – she dealt with the initial response to child protection enquiries and would keep a case until it went to conference.
“I was really fortunate when I first qualified that I came into a very experienced team – the social workers and managers had been there for quite a while,” she says.
“So, although I was very new, there was always someone I could talk to about things that worried me. It was an extremely busy area and we were under pressure, but because you had that support network of people it was manageable because we all shared it together.”
It was these experiences as a frontline practitioner that Roscoe-Goulson says have really influenced her approach to team management.
“I think you learn as much from the positives as you do from the negatives in social work. I always said that if I became a manager, the things that were really important to me as a frontline social worker – I would try and take those with me.”
This includes having protected time for supervision and being available to staff – “not always to give them the answers they want to hear,” she laughs. “But it’s about making sure people know that the words “we will support you” aren’t just written down, they are there in real terms.”
In her own team, Roscoe-Goulson makes sure supervision is booked in for the whole year.
“If you sit down with a social workers and say put it in for next month, their diary is already full.
“No one ever cancels supervision if it’s been in the diary since last December – unless something happens like needing to go to court. I think if social workers feel protected they can deal with the ups and downs of what happens in terms of caseloads and wider issues.”
“A team isn’t the manager, it’s everybody. If you know your manager is there to support you and get through it together, you can achieve a lot. I hope I’ve been able to do that,” she adds.
‘We do our best’
When asked if there’s been a low point in her career, Roscoe-Goulson struggles to answer. But she does say that it can be hard when you’re made to feel “you can never get it right”.
“If we don’t take action, then people feel that we’ve let children down and if we do take action, sometimes it wasn’t quick enough or it wasn’t quite right,” she says.
“I wish we could really change it [that perception of social workers] – that’s the difference between people slogging on, we know why we do it and we don’t expect to be congratulated, but also it’s very difficult to work in a climate where you feel your efforts just aren’t valued.”
This hasn’t dented how proud she feels to hold a social work qualification though.
“I undertook that training so I could work alongside the most vulnerable children, the ones most at risk, and make a positive change to their life,” she says.
“I believe that I, and every other social workers, does their best to do that, so I’m proud that in the way that we can, we do contribute to the wellbeing and safety of children.”
Roscoe-Goulson is now leaving frontline management behind to move into a role as professional advisor on child protection and child in need. This will be in the quality assurance and improvement team at Suffolk – she’s “no desire” to ever leave the council.
“Seven years as a frontline manager is quite a long time and I’ve developed so much and I’ve really enjoyed it, but I do think the time is right for me to do something different,” she says.
“The social work awards were part of that – it was such a good experience, being nominated, all the testimonials that people kindly wrote, it got me thinking about what else I could do.
“I hope I’ll be able to take all my knowledge and learning to this new role, continue to work closely with frontline teams, and hopefully use what I know to support them.”