There are few British roads as iconic as the A303. It’s road immortalised in song, tied up with memories of Westcountry summers, and offering arresting views over the hilly Yeovil Scarplands.
But for children’s social worker Jess Burn and her adult services colleagues Jessica Lobo and Sarah Skeet, there’s more than rustic beauty on offer in South Somerset.
All three work out of Somerset County Council’s offices in Yeovil, and for them it’s the unwaveringly supportive team spirit that makes their place of work so special.
‘Really good managers’
Jess is an advanced practitioner on the looked-after children team. She joined Somerset in 2016 as a newly qualified social worker, and she’s never looked back.
“Not only is everyone in our office lovely, but also we’re all very child centred in our practice,” she says. “That includes the managers. I think that’s really important. We have really good managers who support us when we have a bee in our bonnet about what we think will help the children. They are right behind us, helping us advocate for the children and young people we work with.”
One example is a teenager Jess worked with who was struggling with her long-term fostering placement.
“She had a very traumatic life before care and was really struggling with being in a family that wasn’t her birth family,” Jess recalls. “Her behaviour began to escalate and she couldn’t be safely managed any longer in a foster placement.”
Jess argued that therapeutic residential home would be right for her, but she didn’t get agreement from senior management. So, her manager supported Jess to gather the information needed to go back to the panel and get the agreement.
“That girl’s now flourishing,” says Jess. “She’s happy and she’s got a great team around her. She now feels that she might be able to manage in a fostering placement when she’s ready, and we’re working towards that.”
South Somerset’s supportive culture is also evident in adult services. Adults’ social worker Jessica Lobo describes her team as resilient and supportive.
“We really embrace the idea that not every social worker thinks the same,” she says. “We did a team development day last year where we all did a personality test.
“Those tests highlighted how we have different ways of learning and interpreting things. Those insights really made us all more appreciative of how our differences combine to allow us to work together better.”
Sarah Skeet, the locality manager for adult social care in South Somerset, says ever since the team’s been even more driven to share ideas and support each other. That support is also recognised every month through nominations for the team’s “Star of the Month.”
“At the end of each month we all send emails to others on the team who supported us to say thanks,” says Jessica. “Those emails really help you recognise how much you do and how appreciated your efforts are.
“It’s great because sometimes in social work you’re so wrapped up in the day-to-day. Star of the Month gives us all a boost – it’s about being reflective and positive about what we do.”
United by cake
An even sweeter monthly team ritual is Pudding Club, which takes place on the first Wednesday of each month.
“I love Pudding Club!” exclaims Jessica. “We had a great chocolate orange cheesecake this month.”
Pudding Club sounds like a small thing, but it’s a powerful team builder.
“It’s only twenty minutes but it’s an opportunity for us to stop, think and learn about each other,” says Sarah.
“It helps us be a supportive team. When people on our team need support having those tighter relationships makes it easier.”
Development is equally important to the teams in South Somerset. In fact, it’s what brought Jess to Somerset County Council in the first place.
“After I qualified I knew I wanted to live in Somerset, but I wasn’t sure if I would work for the county council,” she recalls. “The ASYE here is amazing. That, plus the career opportunities afterwards, was a big part of the reason why I joined.
“The progression route here is very clear. The experience and skills you need to progress from social worker to advanced practitioner to aspiring team manager and beyond are crystal clear.
“That was great for me as I wanted to go up the ladder. In three years I’ve been able to move up from newly qualified to advanced practitioner.”
There are also plenty of opportunities to specialise for those who want to stay close to the frontline.
“There’s someone on our team who’s had specialist training in sexually harmful behaviour,” says Jess. “She now does specialist assessments for us and other teams. So even if you don’t want to go down the management route, you’re not stuck in a silo forever.”
Dedicated to quality
It’s the same deal in adult social care. Sarah says Somerset’s development offer is a big step up from what she experienced at her previous authorities.
“Here there’s a real commitment to developing you as an individual and to developing good social work practice,” she says.
“I’ve not worked in a council before where there’s such dedication to development. What Somerset does really well is commit itself to good-quality, innovative, strengths-based practice and learning.
“It’s just a really positive place to work.”