Sarah Mackereth’s got no doubt about what makes being an adult social worker in Devon different.
“I’ve worked for a number of local authorities and for me the difference here is that you get the opportunity to shape your own career pathway,” says Sarah, an assistant director of health and social care delivery at Devon County Council.
“We have a very open approach to recruitment and progression. Through supervision and appraisals, we’re constantly talking to our social workers about their professional interests and what they want the next step in their career to be.”
The council also backs it up with investment, she adds: “We spend £800,000 a year on workforce development and that means our frontline social workers get plenty of additional opportunities to develop specialisms.
“To name just a few, we’ve got a Management Pathways programme, there is an opportunity to train as a best interests assessor in partnership with Bournemouth University, and opportunities to develop practice in areas as varied as autism, county lines, continuing healthcare and supporting young people in the transition to adulthood.
“We also have a successful Trainee AMHP programme for those leaning towards a career in mental health.”
Investing in social workers
This commitment to helping staff to pursue development opportunities that excite them is very much part of Devon’s DNA.
“Because we’re a large authority covering a wide area, we have to invest in our people and that investment is so important to us.
“We develop our practitioners because we know that the only way to get the best social workers is to support them to learn, develop and progress as professionals.”
One social worker who can attest to Devon’s commitment to developing its social workers is Simon Fleming.
Simon joined Devon three years ago after finishing his social work masters and now manages the county’s Preparing for Adulthood team. Prior to his degree he spent 15 years as an adult social care manager for a unitary authority overseeing a team of community workers.
“One of the reasons I wanted to work for Devon is because it’s so big,” he says. “Where I worked before the opportunities were limited because it was such a small authority.
“At Devon there’s an awful lot of different opportunities – there’s lots of specialist services to meet the needs of lots of different service users and that gives you plenty of options about what you want to do and where in the county you want to live. The opportunities and scope here are of a different order of magnitude.”
His move to team manager is a good demonstration of that, he says.
“I wasn’t planning on going back into management. My original idea was to stick to frontline social work,” he says. “But the Preparing for Adulthood team offered so many opportunities for me because it was more or less a brand new team, so it was an opportunity to develop that service and the systems around it from scratch.
“So on hearing about it, I knew I couldn’t really walk away from that chance.”
Simon has also found the supportive culture of the adult social care service a boon: “The team I did my ASYE placement with were brilliant – really, really supportive so was the manager. That team made a massive positive difference to me.
“There was always someone to refer back to and discuss cases with. The manager had a good level of connection with the team and their cases.”
Devon has been a supportive employer in other ways, he adds.
“Devon’s been good to me,” he says. “I have dyslexia so they gave me things like Read&Write Gold, which is a IT system that reads out what you’ve written so you can listen back and hear any mistakes.
“That extra help made a real difference because social work is time pressured – you can’t be faffing around so that was really important in achieving the right outcomes for people and being able to crack on with the work at an acceptable rate.
“They also offered me flexible working, which was really important because I’ve got three children, so that makes life a lot easier for me and I was really supported in doing that.”
Open countryside and fantastic beaches
And that support all means Simon doesn’t miss out of some of the great advantages of living in one of the most beautiful counties in the country.
“If you’re going to work and live somewhere you may as well do it where there’s a nice backdrop and we’ve certainly got that here in Devon,” he says.
“I live just 15 minutes from the beach and 15 minutes from the moors. So if I’m going for a walk with the dog I can either drive up on the moors and get the open countryside or drive the other way for the fantastic beaches.
“You know, my family and I drove down to the south of France a while back and we were laying on this massive long beach and we just said to each other: yeah this is nice but it’s not as good as Devon though. And it’s true!”