As part of its role as a partner in practice, improvement partner and independent consultancy, Achieving for Children (AfC) has spent a lot of time working with struggling authorities.
A common problem is that by the time improvement partners come into these councils, many social workers have left, to be replaced by agency staff, if they are replaced at all.
AfC are developing ‘AfC Prime’, an initiative which will see permanently employed social workers seconded out to these authorities, so improvement partners and the councils themselves know they have a full workforce they can rely on. The project is supported by additional funding from the government’s Partners in Practice scheme.
Director of AfC Prime Andrew Thorne says the intention is that you can be based anywhere and still be employed by AfC.
“Where it came from originally was the idea that it’s ok to go in with improvement plans, talk to directors and assistant directors about recruitment plans, but if you haven’t got the social workers on the ground to implement the improvement plan you’re a bit stuck.
“The intention is to go in with an improvement plan and the social workers and managers to help implement that plan.”
For the local authority, this means a guaranteed workforce for a period relevant to their improvement journey and as they recruit for permanent staff, at no more cost than recruiting agency social workers. Meanwhile the social workers would get a permanent contract and the relevant benefits, such as access to AfC’s training, while also getting the agency lifestyle of being able to go to different places for different periods of time.
Once they complete their secondments they can return to one of AfC’s hub authorities to help support teams there.
AfC can differentiate itself from a recruitment agency in the support it can offer, Thorne explains. “I’m quite used to placing agency staff in failing authorities, as an ex-social worker I’m also quite used to saying, ‘If you have problems, phone me up and let me know what’s going on’.
“What AfC Prime will be doing is formalising that. We have formal supervision within AfC still, they will be properly supported, and changes that need to be driven through can be done with the directors of AfC as well.”
The right calibre of social workers
Thorne says the way of mitigating challenges posed by this model – such as an increased risk of burnout from sending social workers to high-pressure working environments – is through support but also recruitment.
“I think it is about getting the right calibre of social workers. Those with strong values already, they are not going to be knocked off course by people being negative around them.”
He adds: “If you’re feeling under stress you can call someone, being constantly able to plug into that, if you’re an experienced social worker you take support where you can get it. What we do is we offer that continuous support. Sometimes you don’t need to speak to someone for two or three weeks, or sometimes you can speak to someone three times a day, and that’s what we will guarantee, I think that’s a really important point.”