Hampshire County Council has just committed to investing £6.5m in recruiting, training and supporting over 100 additional social worker positions. Steve Crocker, the director of children’s services, tells us why:
This is a big investment in children’s social care at a time when local government finances are very tight, so why are you doing this?
In short, because the welfare of our children and families depends on it. We have around 400 children’s social workers in Hampshire and so we’re increasing our workforce by more than 25%.
We’re already investing in new technology for all of our social workers and, as one of the government’s Partners in Practice, we’ve embarked upon an exciting journey in reshaping our children’s social work offer including developing, in partnership with the University of Winchester, a sound, evidence-based practice model that we believe is fit for purpose for the 21st century.
That model is designed to create the conditions for good social work practice to flourish and to make that happen we want to secure more high quality professionals. Like everywhere, we’re experiencing rising demand for child protection services but we believe that there is a way to support families more effectively and make a real difference to children’s lives through our new social work model.
How will the extra children’s social workers help you meet that challenge?
With more social workers, better trained, better equipped with technology and the tools for the job we can meet the demand for support and, at the same time, achieve real change for families because our social workers will be able to spend more of their time intervening earlier to help struggling or close-to-struggling families get on a stable footing.
Hampshire currently has one personal assistant for every three social workers. Will that continue?
Absolutely. We’re dedicated to giving our social workers that level of support and so, as we bring in more social workers, we will also be recruiting more personal assistants to maintain the current ratio of support.
We want to make sure our social workers can be out there working with families to create lasting change and that administrative support means their time can be used more effectively.
This is also why we’re rolling out hybrid laptops and new smartphones. These devices help them manage their workloads and time far more efficiently so that they can spend more time working with children and families. It also means we can offer our social workers more flexible working arrangements.
Returning to social work?
For people returning to social work after a break, Hampshire County Council has a bespoke programme to help you with your return. Here’s how it works:
1. One of our workforce development officers works with you to develop your individualised return to social work package
2. You will then shadow our social workers and further develop your understanding and knowledge ahead of your return
3. Having fully prepared you for your return to social work, we will match you with, and interview you for, a relevant post in our service
To find out more about our return to social work scheme email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Will Hampshire children’s social care look very different once these changes take root?
Yes, that is our intention – whilst making sure that we remain one of the very best children’s services departments in the country – as we are currently according to Ofsted.
We are working towards a future where social workers will be more mobile, less constrained by bureaucracy and supported by technology that will give them a single view of each child. Our practice will therefore change too and be based on the evidence-based practice model that we are developing.
In what way?
We are one of the seven Partners in Practice authorities chosen by the Department for Education to explore new ways of working to improve social work practice. We’re using that innovation funding to work with the University of Winchester to develop a new operating model for children’s social care that we will start introducing in 2018.
The idea behind the new model is that, as the rising demand the sector has experienced in recent years demonstrates, the current model for children’s social care is out-dated and we cannot keep on doing the same old things.
So what we’re seeking to do is build the social work model of tomorrow, one that enables social workers to be more effective at helping families stay together and become more resilient.
We’re obviously designing that model for Hampshire first and foremost but our ambition is that this model will become the basis for change nationally. I think that will be one of the exciting elements career wise for social workers who join us during our expansion – they will be in on the ground floor of the social work model of tomorrow.
You are currently looking for an area director for east Hampshire. What will their role in this transformation be?
The area director play a fundamental role in the changes since they will be the operational lead for children’s social care, early help and related services.
It’s a role that will be right in the heart of implementing a model that I truly believe will set the tone for best practice in children’s social care. They will be working with our senior managers and inspiring their team of district managers to make our vision of a multi-disciplinary and family-focused service deliver for children and young people.
It’s a chance for someone to use their experience to tackle some of the most challenging aspects of social work by embedding great practice that helps makes the lives of Hampshire’s children, young people and families better.
How does the professional development of social workers fit into the improvements you have planned?
It’s a very important part and that is why we’ve recently guaranteed all our social workers five days of professional development every year in addition to any mandated training events. Too often – and I’m talking nationally here – we hear how social workers cannot access the training they are offered due to their workloads. Our five days of professional development guarantee is about making sure that doesn’t happen in Hampshire.
But the guarantee is just the latest addition to what I think is our very strong learning and development offer to social workers. We already have a team of eight social work qualified workforce development officers who work across the county with managers and each social worker, whether they be newly qualified or highly experienced, to create personalised career development plans.
While these plans must fit with our development pathways we don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to development. The training social workers get should be tailored to their individual career and development needs.
We want our social workers to have the best skills and knowledge possible. Not only is that good for each of our social workers but also for our vulnerable children and families because it means they will get the very best support, which is what it’s all about really, isn’t it?