Named social worker pilot boosts skills, knowledge and confidence, says report

Sites taking part in the programme noted practitioners were more confident in their ability to engage with service users and work with human rights legislation

Social worker and service user
Photo: John Birdsall/Rex Shutterstock

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.

Positive response

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.

Recommendations

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.

‘Fundamental role’

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.”

2 Responses to Named social worker pilot boosts skills, knowledge and confidence, says report

  1. Chris Sterry August 3, 2018 at 4:28 pm #

    Thank you for this article as it creates an insight into what is occurring, especially where I am.

    I am a family carer for my adult daughter who lives with myself and my wife in Sheffield. In whatever spare time I have I am a carer representative on the Sheffield LD Partnership Board and until last week I was a carer representative on the Sheffield Carers Service Improvemement Forum (SIF).

    As the Carers SIF has been disbanded on the pretext of lack of carer.involvement, as I was the only one who attended the May SIF, athough there has been non-communication with some SIF members, hence they did not know when they were taking place, I would have expected this July SIF meeting to discuss how we should proceed.

    However, I am with another carer meeting some representatives of Sheffield Council in the next couple of weeks to discuss how we should move forward

    However, meantime, the avenue to discuss matters such as named Social Worker are not there.

    I therefore welcome this article to provide the information that is lacking with Sheffield.

  2. Who knows? August 11, 2018 at 8:19 pm #

    I think this is great, but I’m left wondering what size caseload these workers have and how sustainable is that over a longer period. I have worked in this way in the past in transition for people with Learning disabilities, and caseloads were reaching an average of 80 and were still growing. This was not sustainable and created an enormous amount of stress for all workers. Without adequate staffing levels and agreed maximum caseloads, I can’t see that this approach would last, but it would raise people’s expectations for them only to be let down.

    Councils just simply don’t have the money to adopt this approach, no matter how good it is. It is only really possible with specific groups, such as TCP, or transition.