Three weeks ago Caroline Aldridge joined the Norfolk and Suffolk Social Work Teaching Partnership, a new initiative designed to embed a learning culture in the area’s social work.
As one of the partnership’s four What Works Well leads, her mission is to use her experience as a social worker and lecturer to help Norfolk’s children’s services maximise the benefit of working in the partnership.
We caught up with her to find out more about the partnership and what it has to offer Norfolk social workers.
What is the Norfolk and Suffolk Social Work Teaching Partnership?
It brings together Norfolk and Suffolk county councils plus two highly respected higher education institutions, the University of East Anglia and the University of Suffolk. The goal is to create a learning culture and research mindedness within social work across the two counties.
What does a What Works Well lead do?
I’m like an explorer. My job is to go out and see what’s happening in terms of best practice and research, to bring back ideas to support Norfolk in striving for excellence. I will be looking at innovative and creative ways of disseminating the learning from my explorations so we can use them to underpin and strengthen the practice we already do in Norfolk.
Rather than just bringing in ideas, it’s about asking why something worked and how it might work in the context of Norfolk. It’s tempting to look at an idea and bring it back without thinking about why it worked in that context. In another context it simply might not work. So the ‘why’ really matters.
Why is doing that important?
The whole world of social work is changing really quite rapidly. We’ve got austerity, nationwide recruitment and retention challenges, and the social work role is changing. Wherever we are in the country we have to keep pace with that. The partnership is about being innovative – looking at what everybody does best and finding new, evidenced ways of doing it better.
I’m passionate about doing the best we can for children and families with the resources we have got. So if we can be innovative and really thoughtful, and target what we do with good evidence, then we can make the best of use of those resources. Children and families are the ultimate beneficiaries of that.
So it’s about better training?
That’s a part but there’s much more to it. There will be opportunities for everyone in Norfolk social work, from students right through to experienced social workers and managers, to get involved. Those opportunities could be delivering teaching at universities or peer workshops, interviewing applicants for social work courses, getting involved in research and more.
Formal CPD opportunities will be improved but there will also be a lot of informal learning that practitioners will be able to benefit from.
You said your role is like being an explorer. What have you found on your travels around Norfolk so far?
A real thrust towards improving practice. There is some really good practice happening on the ground. I think when you get a negative Ofsted that gets lost. Yes, there are things that need to improve but there is also fantastic work being done by individuals and teams. For example, there is a real move to embed Signs of Safety which is providing consistency in practice.
It’s funny, this morning I was reading about what’s happening in Brighton & Hove and thinking, yes, yes, that’s amazing but a lot of that is already happening in Norfolk.
Norfolk’s new teams are similar. We’ve got smaller teams working towards smaller caseloads and practice consultants, best practice champions and reflective group supervision. There are already managers here training in systemic supervision as part of us building relationship-based ways of helping social workers manage the anxiety and risk they have to hold.
How will the partnership help the careers of Norfolk social workers?
It’s going to give social workers a chance to develop their specialisms, their ideas, their knowledge and their skills. For example, supporting and developing more practice educators. The partnership offers opportunities that haven’t been available before here or, I think, in other local authorities before because of the closer links with academics and Suffolk.
In my own career I had to keep switching organisations to get the training and experience I wanted. But with the partnership you should get opportunities to progress without leaving. I think that’s exciting for practitioners.
Social workers who go and work in local authorities where there are challenges can learn a lot individually from being part of an organisation that’s really committed to improvement. I am pleased I made the decision to return to Norfolk’s children’s services and I am optimistic about the possibilities the partnership brings.