Ask Amanda Lewis, the corporate director of people at Luton Council, what her job is about and she’ll give you a very short answer: effective frontline social work that makes a difference to people’s lives.
“My role is to enable our frontline practitioners to be the best they can possibly be, to create the right environment where they can be effective leaders and practitioners,” Amanda explains.
There are several ways she thinks the council is uniquely placed to prioritise the social work experience for children’s and adults’ workers: through a commitment to continuing professional development; investment in practice; and building on the transformational strength-based models for both children’s and adults practice, both of which are evidence-based and innovative.
Luton is one of the authorities where the new Family Safeguarding Model of social work practice is being expanded: this has meant a multi-million-pound investment to create multi-disciplinary teams that work around families and train all practitioners in motivational interviewing.
An evaluation of the first council to run the model found social work practitioners “identified benefits to their practice” and an improved access to support services for children and families. A social worker told evaluators that families had a “a better chance”.
Amanda is confident that the model will deliver similar results for social workers in Luton: “We went live in November, and the opportunity to work from a strengths-based approach, have multi-disciplinary teams, to receive reflective supervision and be part of peer supervision has been viewed positively from staff and managers.”
Maintaining a close link between the council and the University of Bedfordshire, empowering the principal social worker roles and supporting the voice of the social worker within children’s and adults’ services are other steps that Amanda sees as important to support staff to achieve the best outcomes through effective practice.
“Practitioners are determined, passionate, driven by a strong value base, have integrity within everything they do and want the opportunity to learn, to innovate and be supported to develop.” Staff are supported to undertake training, coaching and mentoring, and in some cases the council will pay qualification fees.
As well as money put into the council from the government’s innovation fund, some community and early intervention services in Luton are protected from some of the pressures of austerity because of the council’s unique ownership of Luton Airport, the dividend of which has supported community development, early intervention and prevention projects.
Amanda’s leadership style is informed by the diversity of career she’s had, which has taken her to authorities across London, Dorset, Somerset and Wales, plus a voluntary project with young people in South East Asia.
She says the first decade of her working life “really laid some important foundations around values, in terms of dealing with social injustice and issues relating to the experience of children, families and adults who may need additional support to be able to improve their life chances”.
After a varied and travelled career, what attracted her to take a permanent role in Luton was the council’s ambition for its citizens, its commitment to improving the life chances of all through the Luton Investment Framework, creating jobs, and improving educational standards “as our children’s education is their passport to their future”.
Luton’s ‘super diverse’ community also contributes to its wealth of opportunity and rich heritage. She describes a “challenging but rewarding job” to be undertaken but Amanda is confident the council and its partners have the “right ingredients” and “determination to give children, young people, families and vulnerable adults opportunities to make different choices”.
“Luton is a place where you can make a real difference through your practice and be part of a ‘whole system’ to tackle important issues around social and health inequalities – it’s a place where the role of schools, early intervention, prevention, partnerships and safeguarding, along with effective social work, is life-changing for citizens.”