Practitioners taking part in the Named Social Worker (NSW) pilot scheme were “more motivated” and recorded greater job satisfaction which led to “good social work”, a report has found.
Commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in 2016 to understand how a named social worker could help to improve outcomes for individuals with learning disabilities, autism and mental health conditions, the Putting people at the heart of social work: lessons from the named social worker programme report found NSWs were more confident in their ability to “meaningfully engage with service users” and deliver person-centred plans.
Meanwhile, service users and their families acknowledged the benefits of the project, stating contact with a NSW gave them a greater voice in arranging person-centred plans.
The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and the Innovation Unit – responsible for producing the report – worked with the six phase 2 sites (Bradford, Hertfordshire, Halton, Shropshire and Sheffield) to assess the impact of the pilot on service users, named social workers and the wider system.
Using an online survey, social workers taking part in the pilot were asked a series of questions comparing their confidence around different aspects of their job before and after working as a NSW.
Before the scheme started, 49% of social workers said they were confident or very confident in their ability to develop relationships with service users. Following the pilot, 93% of social workers said they were confident or very confident in their ability.
According to the report, evidence firmly suggested NSWs “enjoyed and valued the opportunities to build consistent and trusting relationships” with the people they worked with.
The survey also revealed an increase in NSWs’ confidence to advocate for the people they work with. According to the report, 57% of practitioners were very confident with their abilities to advocate following the programme, while 36% said they were confident. Just 16% of social workers said they were very confident before the pilot ran.
The NSW pilot was also found to have increased confidence in working with specific legislation, such as the Mental Capacity Act and European Convention on Human Rights.
Before the survey, 42% felt very confident or confident and another 37% felt quite confident. The follow-up showed this jumped significantly as 86% reported they felt either very confident or confident by the end of the pilot.
“Despite the short pilot time frame, the opportunity to put ‘good social work’ with the cohort in action had a significant impact on the confidence of NSWs. Being part of the pilot improved social worker morale and motivation in their day-to-day work,” the report said.
Service user benefits
In addition to noting improvements to social work practice, service users and their families also noted the success of the scheme.
Evidence from the final report demonstrated having a named social worker, or a consistent point of contact, reduced anxiety and increased confidence in the services around the individual. This allowed families and the social worker to build trusting relationships. One mother said her son found it “better to work with social services” when the social worker stayed the same.
The report continued to state, once a trusting relationship has been established, the NSW programme acted as a critical means of gathering information about service users. This was because NSWs were able to discover the likes and dislikes of the service user, which acted as essential information when helping to build a person-centred plan.
Obtaining information over a period of time also “reduced reliance on direct questioning” and “allowed time for an indirect process of observation and probing” to gather information, the report added.
Another benefit of having time to build relationships with the service users was the ability for NSWs to help young people at the point of transition between children’s and adults’ services. The report said having “frequent contact points” meant that NSWs could help service users and their families think through implications over a longer period.
Reporting back to the DHSC, the report put a list of recommendations towards the government. This included developing a national guide on NSWs and providing support to help local areas bring the existing NSW pilots to scale, spreading to new adopter sites.
Recommendations for other sites looking to embed an NSW approach included:
- take time to plan, identify the cohort, gather relevant data, approach and engage key partners
- structure the model to include protected time for the NSW caseload and peer supervision, to maintain focus and momentum
- focus on what it is possible to achieve and be realistic when managing expectations and relationships if delivering the pilot within a short time frame
- gather data to evidence impact and learning around key impact areas and to clearly illustrate how strengths-based approaches to social work can generate cost efficiencies across the system.
Writing on her official DHSC blog, chief social worker for adults Lyn Romeo reflected on the lessons that had been learnt from the scheme.
“I believe that social workers and good social work practice have a fundamental role to play in putting person-centred care at the very heart of these important initiatives. We do this by modelling and championing social work in multidisciplinary professional contexts,” she said.
“This is my ambition. I hope that the lessons from the NSW programme will resonate with our many resilient, passionate and creative social workers, service and system leaders as they take on our public services many challenges.”