“I told myself I would never be employed as a permanent social worker again,” says Chima Philip. “I’d worked for a number of councils and got used to all the benefits of not working in one place for very long before being able to move on.”
He joined Barking and Dagenham Council as an agency worker in March 2016, and within 16 months had become a permanent member of staff.
Today, he manages a team of six, helping improve the way social work practices for children’s care and support is delivered, in one of London’s most exciting boroughs. “It has been a whirlwind, but I never planned any of it – it just seemed to happen,” he says.
Despite this unexpected journey, Chima says he feels like “one of the luckiest people here” after taking up a full-time management role that has offered a range of opportunities to develop his career.
A progressive organisation
He adds: “I arrived in Barking and Dagenham as an agency worker and, although it sounds strange, there was something different about the place. There was a relaxed atmosphere and a real sense this was a progressive organisation that was looking to make improvements to the sector.
“I liked the place, I liked the people, and I liked the opportunities. Although I originally rejected a full-time opportunity here, after some time getting to know the area and organisation, I decided I wanted to stay and develop – and I haven’t regretted it.”
Chima admits having a “very good management that was committed to ensuring we provide the best service” had a big impact on his decision.
Our offer to social workers
Permanent social workers filling priority roles in Barking and Dagenham are eligible to receive:
• A £5,000 welcome payment
• A £15,000 commitment payment after three years
• A two-month sabbatical after four years’ service
• Key worker housing, which offers subsidised rent at a discounted market rate
• A relocation package worth up to the value of £7,500
By becoming a permanent employee of Barking and Dagenham Council, he is able to access a range of benefits unavailable to agency workers, including designated training courses and a £7,500 relocation package.
And for priority recruitment roles, the council offers an enhanced benefits package that includes a £5,000 welcome payment, a £15,000 commitment payment, and a two-month paid sabbatical.
Fair to families
“Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of benefits as an agency worker,” says Chima. “In particular, you aren’t tied down to one place, and I think that freedom appeals to a lot of people in our sector.”
Chima adds: “And of course, there’s the money. I know I can earn more as an agency worker but there are things more important than money – and providing support to our families who we are responsible for, is one of them.
“As a manager, I have been fortunate to be able to step back and listen to service users and learn from their experiences.
“Already I have heard from a family that has had seven different social workers in two years – how is that fair to them? We ask these people to open up and trust us and then too often we walk away.
“Even when I was an agency worker I was aware of the impact we have on people’s lives, but now, as a manager, it affects me differently, and I am determined to work on improving the service.”
Chima’s efforts are mirrored by a council that has worked tirelessly to change.
Opportunities to develop
Asked if he thinks he would one day return to agency working, Chima seems confident in his answer. “No, not now. I have been fortunate to find somewhere that I am comfortable working, somewhere I enjoy working and somewhere that has given me plenty of opportunities to develop.”
“My story is a very good story, but it doesn’t have an happy ending – only because I don’t want it to end,” laughs Chima.
“For now, I am determined to stay here and give back to the community. I have benefited from making the transition from agency worker to full-time employee and it is something I am glad I took the decision to make.”