Social worker Adrian Dyka, the group manager in family support and protection at West Sussex children’s services, explains why he is looking for positivity and seeking to make social work sustainable.
How long have you been with West Sussex County Council?
I’ve been in my current role as group manager since December but I joined the council eight years ago.
So what are you enjoying about the new role?
The team I work with are fantastic. I work with some really bright, enquiring and caring social workers and managers. They make every day a bit of a joy – they keep it interesting.
In terms of what I do, it’s about the chance to develop people. I try to take time to develop people’s thinking and analytic skills so that they think more deeply about what they’re doing. I have worked across various parts of the service and it’s about sharing my knowledge. It’s really fulfilling to see people develop and get better at what they do.
What’s the biggest challenge you face?
The biggest challenge is that the work is hard, for social workers in particular. Social workers are the ones on the frontline, at times getting abuse or criticism and at other times compliments. The challenge is they all want to do what is best for families and provide the most support possible. In the current climate, there is a limit to what we can do and how much time you can spend with families, so it’s about managing expectations of the social workers in terms of what they can achieve.
That’s a challenge at times because they want to do the best and so it’s about how I support them to manage their time and resources effectively to do that and feel like they have done their best. Part of that is around me and other managers taking some of the responsibility off them. That’s one thing I pride myself on and something I say it to the team frequently – it’s my job to make them feel safe. They try and make children feel safe; I try and make them feel safe.
What does a typical day involve?
The stock answer is there is no typical day. You could be dealing with anything on any given day. You could be dealing with an emergency where a child needs removing immediately, it could be a teenager who has gone missing, it could be a family who have been made homeless and have no recourse to public funds. There’s just an enormously wide range but we do try and work in a relatively structured way with meetings that happen on a regular basis – team meetings, supervision, management meetings, case discussions and legal planning meetings.
What tips would you give someone thinking about applying for this role?
I need people with some positivity. It’s about having that open mind, that willingness to ask for help, and that willingness to be a professional and own the authority that’s in the social worker role. I also like people to have ambition. It’s about commitment really. That’s the most important thing.
How do you support new team members?
It’s very important to me that we don’t overwhelm people to begin with. There is an induction and until that’s done I wouldn’t expect them to be doing much on top because it wouldn’t be safe. I try and make sure there’s a match in terms of caseloads so they’re not overwhelmed. Also, I try to find out what kinds of cases they are interested in because if you can give people job satisfaction it helps build resilience and a willingness to stay. We do quite well on retention. We don’t have people turning around saying I’m not coping.
Who makes sure you are safe and supported so that you can do your job?
I tend to work very collaboratively, so alongside being supported by my own managers, my management peers, and my social workers I have a responsibility to give a lot back, which I think comes from a sense of respect and loyalty that we have for each other. I’m also lucky to have a very supportive partner and daughter!
Any advice for someone considering moving to West Sussex for this role?
Do it! I would say if people are interested, contact us directly. I’m happy to meet people and answer questions and have those informal chats. I’ll do my best to convince you that we are the place you want to be working but there’s no pressure. I know and understand that people have family commitments and worries and social lives and will be interested in how that fits in. There can always be the temptation in interviews to say ‘Yes, I’ll do everything’ but it’s not sustainable. I want people to take on jobs where they feel happy and supported.
What is it like to live in West Sussex?
I have a daughter who is getting on for three years old and I love how family friendly West Sussex is. There’s loads of stuff for her to do. There’s lots of ways of relaxing and it’s a beautiful part of the world. I’m endlessly being taken on hikes and walks and visiting various parks and runs and all sorts, and that’s really nice. There’s a lot of flexibility in the work too. For example, I had a partner who was doing a degree in Newcastle and for months I was commuting Monday and Friday to and from Newcastle. I was working late during the week but there was that flexibility to fit that around my life.