“They’ve always been very good to me; I’ve always had good opportunities.”
Andrew Sykes, service manager for disabilities in Havering, is explaining what has motivated him to stay in the council for 22 years, encompassing his entire social work career.
“For the last 12 years I’ve had the same manager, who has been brilliant, so I’ve never seen a need to move authority.”
This stability has been seen across Havering’s workforce, which is 80% permanent and underpinned by a supporting workplace culture and manageable caseloads which provide a foundation for its successful services.
The success in Havering’s adults’ and children’s services, shown in a recent iMPOWER report ranking it as England’s fourth most productive council for work with older people and last year’s ‘good’ Ofsted rating, is underpinned by the consistent support of managers and practitioners who are committed to working in Havering long-term, and a social care academy that ensures the development and creates career plans for every practitioner in the council.
Longevity such as Andrew’s is rare in social work, but less so in Havering where Chibuike Oji – team manager for the learning disability team – is in his 10th year.
They made me feel at home
“I’ve been in five different local authorities, when I came to Havering, they made me feel at home. It felt like a good place to work, the managers were fantastic and the staff excellent.”
It’s on the back of this stability and commitment to the council Havering has been able to take on the challenges posed by years of national budget cuts and the need to rethink its services.
Andrew also explains how the council’s approach to succession planning and growing their own means he’s able to have a relaxed management style. “People have come through and been promoted based on merit and their individual talents, so I know in my key positions I have a safe pair of hands.
“I don’t micromanage, they will come to me with a problem or issue they can’t solve but they all tend to adopt solution-focused approaches they might just need me to validate and sign off.”
The approach to developing practitioners so the service is underpinned by staff able to work in unique ways was key in convincing Chibuike to swap from a locum – which he was in Havering for seven years – to a permanent team manager.
“I came in with no plan to aspire to be a full-time worker or manager, but I had managers who saw something in me and supported me to develop those skills, which is very unusual especially when you are a locum,” he explains.
During his time in Havering he has seen the social care academy develop from the ground up after it was recognised there wasn’t a body that helped with staff development.
“It is a fantastic department because they are working directly with each one of us, defining strengths and helping with the direction we want to go.
“Following appraisals, if one of our workers’ direction is to be a practice teacher, we have a conversation with the academy and there will be a link worker who helps the person meet that goal.
“We have a point of call for the professional development of social workers which was not there several years ago, so it has made a huge difference,” he adds.
The academy recognises social workers’ success as well – hosting annual awards – at which Chibuike’s team was recognised for the best teamwork award.
“It is refreshing to know that people out there have noticed the excellent work we are doing and appreciate that, every member of the team is so happy – it has motivated people.”
The commitment to staff’s long-term development has helped keep them in the council long term and has laid the platform for a series of innovative and unique approaches to working. Chibuike is part of an integrated team of about 40 health and social care professionals, and Andrew’s team is a key part of the council’s interface between children’s and adults’ services.
‘Vulnerability not eligibility’
Havering takes the transition from children’s to adults’ services seriously, uniting the two services together in a bid to make it seamless for all levels of need, whether it be young people with learning disabilities, on education health and care plans or leaving care.
“We coined the strapline ‘vulnerability not eligibility’. We stopped looking for formal diagnoses of this, that and the other. We look at what that person needs and what team is best placed to provide input to that and that’s worked really well in terms of wraparound support,” explains Andrew.
Havering’s approach is not just a reward for its ability to motivate staff to stay long-term through development and promotion opportunities, it is also a key draw for others looking to join the authority.
It is what attracted Tendai Dooley, who joined in 2017, to Havering. She is head of service overseeing fostering, adoption, special guardianship orders, any other court order support and leaving care.
“It came across as a borough trying to do things differently, all underpinned by the systemic model and approach. Everybody from the director down is systemically trained,” she says.
She speaks highly of Havering’s Face to Face model of practice, which prioritises social work time with families and children, underpinned by systemic practice and is part of a wider cultural change undertaken by the council to move from one that was more controlling to one that was more collaborative, for both its staff and service users.
Indeed, this approach helps create a shared language and approach between all staff in the children’s services, but also relates closely to the adults’ service’s three conversations model, which is key to creating the close relationships to make transitions work.
“If we’re going to have the level and quality of outcomes that we need we actually need to work together,” Tendai explains.
‘Look at the needs’
How this works in practice from children’s services to adults’, Andrew explains, is they don’t take “too rigid” an approach regarding access. “The leaving care panel in particular has been instrumental in breaking down those barriers, and my part is to challenge my managers and practitioners. There are occasions where we would need to be flexible and I think we have got that message across now.”
For Tendai’s part, she sees her team as working with more empathy and differently “rather than just labelling them”.
“There are a lot of opportunities that we afford our young via this model of working.”
This brings results for young people, Tendai adds. The effectiveness of transition planning has meant young adults who have transitioned out of care services haven’t faced sanctions for failing to pay taxes or bills for over six months.
She adds: “We’ve had a lot more placement stability for those young people with multiple complex needs because of this approach and when we work with foster carers we don’t just work with them in isolation.
“We move away from criteria and actually look at the needs and what those needs actually mean to helping the young person to achieve independence and improve their quality of life.”