Social worker Mel King knows just where to go if she needs support on a case.
She is in her second year in Wiltshire’s adults’ service after completing her assessed and supported year in employment and says her favourite part about working in the county is the team atmosphere and “generosity of spirit” when it comes to sharing support and information.
On arrival, Mel says: “It was very evident that things like training and supervision are really highly valued.
“What I experienced as well is supervision was stuck to. You do hear tales of people having struggled to get supervision but that was done really well.”
This experience was crucial in her fledgling career, but on top of this was the additional support. There are visible senior leaders who work on the frontline with staff, knowledgeable advanced practitioners who lead on training and best practice among staff and advice on demand through a special Skype system giving her access to anyone across the council.
“There’s a whole array of council staff you can consult. I’ve been able to get click of the mouse conversations with housing if that relates to the person I’m working with, so that really does help in terms of getting good outcomes,” says Mel, who now works in Wiltshire’s ongoing support team.
“We can always have access to duty managers, but also we’re aware in our team as well of advanced practitioners and people who are more experienced and have specific roles.”
This supportive culture is one built on stability. Becca Mullins, advanced practitioner for the ongoing support team, reflects about how she felt comforted by the support and knowledge you feel around you when you walk into a team of practitioners who have been in Wiltshire for years.
In addition to this, all new starters are immediately allocated a supervisor who will deliver enhanced support and supervision and co-ordinate an extensive induction during their first few months.
Another element of working in Wiltshire that has helped keep both Mel and Becca excited to work there is the development opportunities. Becca has risen to the advanced practitioner position after joining as a level two social worker, and Mel is currently doing investigating officer training, with a view of following an advanced practitioner career path.
Mel says that, before joining Wiltshire, she had spoken to friends who worked at the council and heard about a good reputation for training and supporting employees, which has been cemented since she joined.
Building on this reputation has been a key plank of Wiltshire’s evolution, says Peter Twiggs, head of the ongoing support, DoLS and Court of Protection teams.
“We restructured last year to incorporate the advanced practitioner into every team,” he says. “So now, in each team, we have an occupational therapist and social work advanced practitioner. Their remit is to focus on and lead on good practice so each of our ongoing support teams has frequent CPD-type sessions for all staff to be involved in, which is led by the advanced practitioner.
“We’re also developing what we’re calling ‘stop the clock’. Which are topical discussion groups around social work practice which the advanced practitioners lead on.”
The goal is to make the organisation one that is focused on skills and responding to the needs of the workforce, and therefore better able to support the wide variety of adults with long-term care needs.
“In our previous structure,” he explains, “the leadership team had so many competing demands and roles and we wanted to separate them.
“We recognised that we needed a person to lead a professional group in each team and lead on practice.”
Grow our own social workers
And those opportunities which saw Becca promoted to advanced practitioner are ones the council wants to share going forward.
“We’re really keen to grow our own social workers and offer that opportunity to develop and work towards a more senior position,” Peter says.
Overall, the stable environment reflected on by Becca and Mel is what the organisation hopes to build on going forward.
“There’s going to be an ongoing need to evolve and change. We’re looking at continuing learning and development around strength-based and person-centred conversations, and clearly looking at how we can work with our other partners to get the best for our users.”