Emma knew it was the job for her as soon as she saw the ad.
Lincolnshire children’s services wanted a team manager who would move from team to team as needed. A manager who could support social workers on under-pressure teams that were facing increased caseloads or referrals.
Having worked in a peri-team years before, Emma knew it was the job for her. She loved the variety of working in a peri-team, of moving from team to team and dealing with different challenges. She just knew she had to apply.
“What appeals to me about being a peri-team worker is the variety and the challenge of going into new teams,” she says. “Agency work might offer the variety but I’ve never been attracted to being a locum.
“I want to be part of a local authority because in a council you can progress your career and you also get the security and sense of belonging that comes with being an employee.”
A few months later, in February 2017, Emma arrived in Lincolnshire, ready to start a new chapter in her social work career in a new authority and a new part of the country.
Partners in Practice innovation
Lincolnshire’s decision to recruit a peri-team manager grew out of the council’s position as one of the government’s Partners in Practice authorities. At first the idea was that Emma would support team managers so they would have the time to get involved in innovation projects.
But after seeing the difference she was making, the council added an advanced practitioner to the peri-team so that they could deliver even better support to the teams they worked with.
“So we began helping teams with planned absences and sickness,” says Emma. “We would look across the council and anticipate staffing challenges a team might face and go in to support that team.”
The work has taken Emma all over the county. She spent time supporting a multi-agency team that tackles child sexual exploitation, got involved in reviews of cases that had got ‘stuck’ and provided cover for a planned absence in the county’s family assessment and support team.
Spirit of innovation
Working across multiple teams has given Emma a great understanding of what life is like in every part of Lincolnshire children’s services.
“It’s a large authority so the needs can be very different – the needs of children in Boston can be very different to the needs of those living in Gainsborough,” she says. “But what I find in every team in the service is this spirit of innovation, creativeness and the commitment towards the children, young people and families we work with.
“The senior leaders really listen to what the teams say and champion and celebrate the excellent work being completed across the whole county.”
Proactive not reactive support
When it comes to what team to join next, the peri-team is driven by one goal: to get support to social work teams when and where they need it.
“The service anticipates where the needs are going to be and sends us in to help before those needs cause problems,” she says.
“Our peri-team is all about preventing teams from crises. We’re fortunate in Lincolnshire that we don’t have high levels of sickness but we know that when there is sickness or vacancies that puts pressure on teams and social worker caseloads increase.
“Our goal is to get into teams quickly to avoid that from happening. Our vision is about being able to give our social work teams preventative rather than reactive support.”
And it’s not just a case of throwing people at problems, she adds: “The difference with us is that we know the council so we can hit the ground running and also we’re very clear about what we need to achieve and what things should look like when our job is done.
“You can bring lots of people onto a team and not make a difference. We’re about making a lasting difference to the teams we work with.”
Training that’s second to none
To make that lasting difference to teams, a major part of the peri-team’s role is to share their knowledge, skills and experience with the staff they work alongside. It’s knowledge sharing that complements the training and development of Lincolnshire social workers and helps ensure consistent and quality practice across the county’s teams.
“The training opportunities here are excellent, the training I’ve had in the short time I’ve been here is second to none,” says Emma. “Where we come in is that there might be social workers who have completed the training on, let’s say, specialist assessments but aren’t yet confident in using them. We help them to put that training into practice and boost their confidence.
“It’s about complementing the teams and their skills. We’re not superheroes who parachute in to save the world – we’re here to complement and support our social workers.”
Experienced social workers
The peri-team might be barely 18 months old but Lincolnshire’s social workers already value the support it offers. So much so that the council is now expanding the peri-team with an additional six social workers who will be seconded to it from other teams in the authority.
“That’s why we’re currently looking for six experienced social workers to join Lincolnshire,” says Emma. “Seconding people to the peri-team gives our social workers a safe way to get experience of working in different teams. We see time on the peri-team as a professional development opportunity for our social workers.”
It’s all a far cry from the quizzical looks Emma got when the team first started.
“When the team was brand new it took a little bit of time for people to get used to us,” she recalls. “People thought we were a bit like agency workers but once they got what we do they were very keen to have us there with them. Now when we move onto another team we even get leaving cards. People are always asking us when we’re coming back.”