Anyone expecting a quiet life as an adult social worker in Norfolk is going to be disappointed.
Norfolk might have affordable housing, stunning landscapes, great schools and a fantastic quality of life, but it’s no backwater when it comes to the challenges its social workers help people overcome.
“There is a view out there that Norfolk is very homogeneous but it isn’t” says James Bullion, the county’s executive director of adult social services. “We have a city with all the problems and complexities that a regional centre has. We have increasing numbers of older and younger people in the community with longer-term and complex needs.
“We also have fairly large immigrant populations in King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth, and a team dedicated to working with them. I don’t think you would ever get bored as a social worker here.”
This diversity of need is part of the reason why adult social care in Norfolk is undergoing a major expansion and seeking to recruit an additional 50 social workers and 15 team managers.
“These are all new posts, not vacancies,” says Bullion. “It’s because our elected members have recognised the change that really great social work can bring about in people’s lives. We feel like it’s a vote of confidence in us as a service.”
Expansion alone isn’t enough and that’s why from next week adult social work teams in Norfolk will start moving to a new way of working: ‘Living Well’, Three Conversations model.
‘Living Well: Three Conversations’
“Three Conversations is a strengths-based approach to social work,” says Lorna Bright, the county’s assistant director of adult social work. “It’s about looking at what is going well in somebody’s life and building on that to make things better for them. It’s a much more positive, person-led way of working than focusing on all the things that are wrong and it is proven to get better outcomes.”
The model depends on social workers spending more time with service users and so Norfolk’s adoption of Three Conversations is going hand-in-hand with a drive to remove the bureaucracy that keeps social workers chained to their screens.
“Similar to other local authorities there was a real creep in bureaucracy that meant our social workers sometimes felt they were working with computers rather than people,” says Bright.
“Traditionally most councils concentrate on eligibility and long assessment forms. What we’re doing is stripping out all those boxes that our workers had to fill in and allowing them to record things in a proportionate way.”
‘We’re not shrinking violets’
Swapping form filling for a future based on developing innovative solutions in collaboration with individuals requires social workers with a certain mentality.
“We’re looking for people with enthusiasm and ambition,” says Bullion. “We’re looking for people who can work on their own initiative and are not frightened to try new things. We’re not shrinking violets – we actively encourage people to be innovative.”
To support that innovation, Norfolk offers plenty of career development opportunities and a supportive working culture.
“We’re recruiting 15 more managers and that means we will be able to provide additional support and supervision for all our social workers,” says Bright. “All our teams also have practice consultants who are highly experienced social workers who support the social workers in the field.”
Norfolk’s teams are hugely supportive, adds Bright: “If mistakes are made we learn from it and help each other in that. We also work in a very integrated way – we are further along in the integration journey with health than some other counties – so it’s not only about supporting social workers, it’s about everybody in the system bringing their expertise and wrapping that around the individual.”
Ultimately, says Bright, adult social work in Norfolk is going places: “It’s an exciting place to work, a place where you are not going to be sitting behind your computer all day but actually working with the people you trained to work with.”