It’s early December and Medway Council’s principal social worker Jean Ross and advanced practitioners are meeting with individual social workers to undertake coaching and mentoring.
Jean is having one of these discussions with a social worker in the council’s offices in Chatham, Kent.
“How did you find the session?” Jean asks. The social worker thanks Jean for listening, being supportive and providing encouragement.
“It’s about social workers feeling good and passionate about what they do,” explains Jean. “No matter what authority you work for, it’s important social workers feel supported.”
Positive progress in individual cases isn’t the only reason Medway social workers have to feel good. Their caseloads are reducing. Today, Medway social workers have an average of 17 cases and a maximum of 20.
Medway’s also taken a systematic approach to shortening the time children spend on plans.
“Any change in social worker is not always good for children,” says Jean.
“Our delivery of children’s services is informed by our vision of achieving positive change for families we work with so that children are safe, services are effective, and families feel supported and enabled to care for their children.”
Single Point of Access
Medway has established small area-based social work teams, known as pods, each with one practice manager and four social workers, who work with children and families, following assessment, throughout their engagement with statutory social work.
Medway has redesigned how cases move through the system.
The First Response Service was launched in April 2018 and comprises of a co-located ‘Single Point of Access’, new Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) and social work assessment teams.
“New referrals now start in the MASH, and are either stepped down to early help or transfer for a child and family assessment within the First Response team,” says Jean.
One social worker from the start
Career progression in Medway
In April 2018, Medway introduced a career progression scheme with a difference.
It’s a scheme where social workers can progress from social worker through to senior practitioner upon demonstrating sufficient skills, knowledge and experience, instead of having to apply for next-level positions.
During February and March social workers are assessed against a skills matrix, and progress to the next level if they demonstrate the skills required.
Staff are also encouraged to participate in a wealth of on the job and external accredited training available throughout the year.
“After an assessment, children in need and those requiring child protection plans are allocated a social worker in one of the authority’s small area-based pods,” Jean adds.
“As a result social workers in Medway now work with children and young people at all stages of their journey.”
“Of course, individual social workers do move on but the pods operate in a way that minimises the disruption if a change in social worker can’t be avoided.”
“Each pod has group supervision and so the expectation is each social worker and practice manager will know the children allocated within their pods,” says Jean.
“So, as well as the allocated social worker, there are three or four other social workers in the pod who also know the child.”
Leadership at the frontline
What all of Medway’s pods benefit from is the family vibe that natural emerges in a unitary authority. In fact, that’s the very reason Jean came to work at Medway as a locum before going permanent.
“I liked the thought of a small unitary authority where you have your managers on hand and that’s the way it is here,” she says.
“We often see our director and deputy director talking to people. When the senior leadership is that close to the frontline they listen to what social workers say and there are fewer stages to go through to deliver changes that can help us help children and families better.”