As one of the first cases of Tanisha Engel-Gilmore’s career this was a tough one: a pre-birth case involving a father with a conviction for child sexual abuse.
“The risks weren’t obvious when it came in, they only became apparent after I started the work,” says Tanisha, a newly qualified social worker on Hampshire County Council’s graduate entry training scheme.
It soon became clear both parents had been involved with social services in other local authorities.
“Serious case reviews show that when there are lots of different local authorities that is when things can go wrong,” she says. “My concern was that I needed to find all the local authorities the parents ever had contact with and ensure we had every bit of information we needed to make a decision.”
And with every new piece of information, the case grew more and more complicated. Even gathering the information from all the different councils involved was challenging. “Every one had different procedures to go through,” she says. “At first I felt overwhelmed by how many local authorities I had to contact.”
Luckily Tanisha knew that support was on hand.
Support on tap
Supporting social workers is paramount within Hampshire Council, says Heidi Jones, the manager of the child protection team Tanisha works on.
“We provide regular supervision to each of our social workers and children and family support workers on a monthly basis, but a lot of informal supervision takes place too,” says Heidi. “No matter how busy I look my social workers always know I’d rather they interrupt and talk to me – I’ve always got the time for them because what they are doing is so important.
“From my own time as a practitioner, I know that being accessible like that is so valuable because without it people are more likely to feel unsafe.”
And if Heidi isn’t around, Hampshire’s management structure means her social workers can always turn to other team managers for help and advice.
The team help each other too, Heidi adds: “Support from your colleagues is instrumental and something that I’m really keen to harbour as a team manager.
So when Tanisha wanted advice from others with her increasing complex pre-birth case, there was no shortage of places to turn. “It was the first case in my name so it was great to be able to talk with Heidi and other team members who have had something like that before and could point me in the right direction,” she says.
The information in that case was always changing, remembers Heidi: “It had a complicated genogram that had to be made sense of. Each time information came in from another authority we would sit down and look at how that informed the next stage of the assessment so that Tanisha could assess the risks and identify the protective factors.”
It’s the kind of support that Tanisha has been able to call on and offer to her colleagues time and time again. “I had a visit last week and it was immediately recognised it had the potential to become volatile, so another worker was sent with me for support.
“And just before I came to do this interview another worker asked if I could join them for a meeting with a parent they work with. We all recognise that some situations can be tricky and just having the support of the team around you really makes you feel safer in your practice.”
Protected time off
As someone on Hampshire’s graduate scheme, Tanisha does get extra support but help remains available for all social workers regardless of experience, says Heidi.
“Even the most experienced social worker needs to be able to bounce their reflections off others so the supervision, both formal and informal, is always there whatever stage people are at in their careers,” she says.
Hampshire also makes developing social workers’ emotional resilience a priority too, offering both training and protected time off.
“We manage on a nine working day fortnight,” says Heidi. “We make social workers take their protected days off because everyone knows that people don’t take the time off if it’s not protected. By having those structured days off people get to take a break.
“Sometimes with this job there are late nights and unpredictable situations but we recognise that our social workers have families too, we want them to be their for own children too and get to go to those really important life events like school plays.
“It’s important to strike that balance of recognising the difficult job we do and actually ensuring that doing it does not come at the cost of practitioners’ own home life.”
Read more about being a Hampshire County Council social worker