As part of Doncaster Children’s Services Trust’s team of practice development social workers, Caroline is always on hand to support social workers.
But while Caroline’s role is to help social workers reflect and develop their practice, there was some trepidation when the team was created in 2016.
“People were afraid of us – the role was new, strange and unlike any other,” says Caroline. “The team found initially some resistance when undertaking our work and people appeared apprehensive about engaging with us and the work we were doing, seeing us as another pair of critical eyes.
“But this soon changed, as teams started to see the benefits and now they are approaching us for help.”
Extra pair of supportive hands
As a social worker herself, Caroline knows how the job can sometimes feel like a very lonely place when you’re practicing. And that’s why social workers soon came to see the benefits of her role as an extra pair of supportive hands.
“As we’ve all experienced, when you are dealing with a difficult case you sometimes just need that reassurance from another professional that you are doing your best for a family, and that’s what we are here for,” she says.
A typical day can see Caroline spending time with social workers delivering planned workshops and training in areas that have been identified as needing extra development, or have been requested by the social workers. This can vary from joint assessment sessions, reflective supervision sessions, support around undertaking casework and teaching/learning sessions.
“I work with a social workers from students through to team managers to give them support wherever they feel they need it. Social workers can just grab me to ask for one-to-one support on their daily practice, or a specific piece of case work.
Building on existing strengths
“Building on their existing strengths, I’m able to help them to make greater improvements to their practice, as well as build new skills,” Caroline explains. “This has all helped social workers to have the time and space to reflect, discuss and challenge around practice.
“Obviously there are some elements of the role which don’t always endear us to colleagues; auditing and some of the challenge we have to do around practice when we observe poor practice. At the same time, colleagues do engage in the process as we all have a shared focused to deliver the very best services for our children and young people.
“It helps them to see areas where things could be better and uses solution-focused practice principles to suggest outcomes and resolutions, which is then followed-up through mentoring, training and learning.
“Our social workers also value having someone they can talk to to influence wider change and create a positive impact for their own development.”
The practice development social workers also support the Doncaster trust’s monthly Stop The Clock training – open to all social workers across the trust, undertaking observations and sharing innovations and ideas.
Caroline feels all of this has created “a culture of self-supporting within teams and has developed a true learning culture where people are continuingly learning and sharing experiences across the trust.
“Our work also sees us working closely with the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam through the South Yorkshire Teaching Partnership; not only to support student social workers through offering placements, but also in enabling trust staff to access learning and to continually develop as professionals.”
Knowledge and skills statements
Caroline and her colleagues have been involved in the invaluable accreditation work in the National Assessment and Accreditation System. This, she says, means we are able to help workers understand what’s expected and prepare for the new knowledge and skills statements.
“I love the role because I get to help people – it’s why I became a social worker,” says Caroline.
“I feel that in taking the approach of ‘doing with’ not ‘to’ people we’ve been able to support and empower social workers, which in turn makes lasting changes on practice as opposed to a quick fix approach.
“The fact that staff are saying that they feel more supported and less worried about work and their practice makes a huge difference and gives a real feel good factor too!”