“I’ve worked in local authorities where you go home and worry and worry, but since I’ve been here, I’ve never had to go home and worry about a case.”
Yasmin Vaughan, a social worker in Havering adult services’ access team, is reflecting on why she dropped plans to get the experience of working in different councils by becoming a locum social worker, after a year of working in the London borough.
“I left the permanent post where I was working to become locum because I wanted to work in different authorities but then I got offered a job here in Havering and have stayed ever since,” she says.
“I did go to other boroughs and was successful in other interviews, but when I met the team manager of the community team it was just really comfortable. The questions she asked allowed me to show my experience and it felt like a nice place for me to come and work.”
Impressed by Havering’s supportive team and accessible senior managers, she took the job in 2016, and a year later gave up working for an agency to take a permanent position within the service.
What swayed her most was the freedom to develop good practice and work creatively. Havering’s Better Living programme – informed by the Three Conversations approach developed by Partners4Change – encourages staff to work more within the community. It shifts conversations from ‘what’s the matter with you’ to ‘what matters to you and how can we help you do this’.
It covers the initial contact, discussing risk and what can be used in the person’s life and community to support them, and, finally, situations when the council should step in with long-term support.
It’s a model that supports the council’s strengths-based approach to social care with older people, as well as Havering’s own unique innovations, such as its all-age multi-agency safeguarding hub.
‘I’m part of the team’
Yasmin says Havering’s approach allows her to focus on good practice, and the working environment is such that she can rely on the support of managers around her to take the fear out of practising.
“I’ve never had to go home and worry about a case or worry that I’ve not done something right or worry about the approach because I know I can ask someone a question. If I have concerns, they are there for you to talk to,” she says.
“You don’t feel on your own, I feel like I’m part of the team I’m in and it makes my job so much more enjoyable as I know I can go out and deliver a good service.”
The availability of support from managers and the freedom to do good work with service users is a consistent theme in Havering, says Tracy Guinan, a senior occupational therapist for the borough, who has been there for seven years.
There might be high demand for her skills across the country, but Tracy’s never considered leaving.
“Havering’s managers are very approachable, more integrated with staff and are always there,” she explains. Tracy currently has two managers she can turn to, one in the north of the borough and another in the south. She also has regular clinical supervision with Havering’s lead occupational therapist.
She’s seen the service develop in an impressive way as well. When she began, she was in an occupational therapy team. Now she sits in a multi-disciplinary team based in the community.
Tracy’s had opportunities to develop too, moving up to senior practitioner since joining Havering. “The team is always open to letting me go on training,” she notes.
‘Not a 9-to-4 approach to social work’
The east London borough’s approach to adult social care has also garnered national attention. Public services consultancy iMPOWER ranks Havering as England’s fourth most productive council in the country for its work with older people.
But Havering’s not stopping there. Annette Kinsella, head of integrated services, says the authority is looking to support practitioners’ work-life balance in a way that also encourages best practice.
“Anything we do in the future will look at having a more flexible approach, not a 9-to-5 approach to social work,” Annette says.
She adds while this is work-life balance driven, it is also being done with vulnerable residents and their families in mind, who may prefer support outside of the traditional office hours.
But what won’t be changing is the council’s commitment to practitioner development.
Havering has an internal social care academy that oversees training and development for social care staff at all stages of their career and the council also leads the regional social work teaching partnership.
“We have partnerships with universities for continuing professional development, and work with them to develop practitioner expertise in dementia, end of life care and other qualifications,” says principal social worker Kate Dempsey.
There’s also an aspiring managers’ course, best interest assessor training and Approved Mental Health Practitioner training for those looking to explore new career avenues, as well as opportunities for secondment.
But whether it be senior level or frontline, the relationships within the teams is at the heart of everyone’s experience of Havering. Kate explains: “I have stayed here because of the relationships I have with people. It is an ambitious place, with clear values and ambition to get the best service for our residents. I’ve seen quite a lot of change but also seen people hold on to those values.”