A government-funded training programme for children’s social work managers has been praised for developing the confidence and skills of practitioners while also improving retention.
The Firstline programme, which is run by Frontline, seeks to develop the leadership skills of social work managers and an evaluation published today found its prototype work with 37 managers was having a positive effect.
“There were signs of the prototype having had a positive impact on the [participants’] leadership capabilities and social work practice,” said the evaluation by the Centre for Child and Family Research in Loughborough. “The [participants] reported that the programme helped them to think more about other people’s perspectives and be more reflexive. They learned to reframe issues, act differently, and view situations more positively, and had become more mindful and self-aware.”
Firstline’s prototype programme, which is being extended to work with 400 practitioners by 2019, involved residential modules, action learning sets and projects. Participants were also supported by a leadership development advisor. There were also optional simulated supervisions and a diagnosis of the individual’s leadership style and organisational climate. The programme is funded by the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme.
Following the completion of the programme, four managers who had planned to leave their posts decided to stay, the evaluation reported. A further third of the participants had secured – or considered applying for – more senior or new leadership positions.
However a minority of senior managers from local authorities were concerned that the programme was “elitist” because it worked with managers assessed as being good. The evaluation said this criticism showed the need for other training programmes to develop other first-line managers in children and families’ social work.
Mary Jackson, Frontline’s leadership development director, said: “It is excellent that the initial evaluation of Firstline found early evidence of the positive impact that a challenging leadership programme for social work managers can have on social work practitioners.
“The fact that this is apparent, even in the embryonic stages of the programme, is hugely positive and provides an excellent foundation on which to improve social work leadership.”
Managers in Bexley, where the prototype was carried out, found it “hugely beneficial” according to Jacky Tiotto, the council’s director of children’s services. “The programme provided time to think and reflect, and the one-to-one coaching from a systemic practitioner helped immensely. Exploring different leadership styles in relation to context and responsibility was unusual and really valuable to their work.”
The evaluation of Firstline was released on the same day as the Department for Education announced the latest round of funding from its innovation programme. The new funding round will see more than £7 million split between three projects run by Coram, Bradford council and Dorset County Council.
Coram will use its funding to help councils in Northamptonshire, Manchester, Reading and Slough make better use of data for understanding the needs of children in care and for work on fostering, including post-18 support.
Bradford will use the money to provide integrated care for children with the most complex needs and Dorset intends to spend the money on improving outcomes for children, including by providing extra training for its staff.
Evaluation reports about other projects backed in the last round of innovation funding were also published.