Leaving Leicestershire County Council to join Lincolnshire County Council was an easy decision for children’s social worker Laura. She already had existing ties to Lincolnshire through family and past work experience. But, more importantly than that, she also had a hunger to learn – a hunger the council satisfied.
“I always knew I wanted to work in Lincolnshire,” says Laura, who has been a social worker for 12 years. “I studied children’s social care at the University of Northampton from 2004, and during holidays and term time, worked temporarily as a placement support/sessional worker. I was involved in helping children into foster placements across the county and was involved in a couple of projects back then.
“One of the projects was One Jam, which was about working with children in care and encouraging them to become involved in music during the school holidays. I was involved in that for two years.
“The second was Young Roots. So, I really have fond memories of Lincolnshire and some positive experiences too.”
While Laura was studying, she always kept one eye on the county’s progress. “I would read online news and Ofsted inspection reports, and it was the council’s ability to achieve consistent ratings that was a big incentive to me joining,” she says.
“If you are outstanding it means that you have good practices in place to help staff, and clear and regular communication that makes employees feel important and valued,” says Laura. “This was something that not only appealed to me but I wanted to be part of.”
Laura has a background in children’s services and safeguarding/child protection. This has involved assessment and child in need, child protection, looked-after and adoption work. She joined Lincolnshire as a practice supervisor manager (previously called practice manager) in September 2017.
Laura has been rising up the ranks ever since. “I love learning and keeping up to date with practice, models and interventions and the law continues to support my enthusiasm for practice,” she said. She is now a team manager for West Lindsey’s Family Assessment and Support Team (FAST) in Gainsborough – one of the county’s eight FAST departments. FAST is responsible for services around child in need, child protection and court work, and the teams cover Lincoln, Louth, Horncastle, Gainsborough, Grantham, Spalding, Boston and North Hykeham.
“The reason why I progressed my career to team manager was because I wanted the impact I had on children and families to extend beyond the individual people I supported,” says Laura. “I have always been passionate about working in children’s safeguarding and still have contact with children and families. But managing a team gives me the opportunity to widen that impact and strive for excellence for the children and families we support.”
We encourage new starters at Lincolnshire to build a system that works for them and run with it
Laura’s passion for working with children and families extends to ensuring that newly qualified and student social workers receive the best foundations when they join. The council launched a three-year-long social work apprenticeship scheme for unqualified workers in March 2019.
As part of the scheme, student social workers are paired with experienced staff members, rather like an informal ‘buddy’ or mentor system, which allows them to ask questions and access support. One of these apprentices is part of Laura’s team and is thriving under the training, says Laura, who has been a mentor informally and formally to students through her role as a practice teacher.
“When students join, we get them to spend time with designated senior staff members, who are then able to share their experience, expertise and best practice,” she says. “We have people in the team that are great at supporting new starters. It is not about one person contributing to their development, it is about the whole team supporting. The aim of this is so that everyone gets a rounded experience. We encourage new starters to build a system that works for them and run with it.”
The experience of mentoring is one that Laura continues to value. “It’s been positive as people who I have supported have continued to do well in social work,” she says. “This will not be down to me solely, but it’s nice to see how I’ve shaped/contributed to their development. For the individuals themselves, some of these people have come to work with me in other teams, including changing the local authority so I feel that’s a positive acknowledgement of my practice and support offered.”
The council also collaborates with government as part of the Partners in Practice (PiP) programme, which brings the best practitioners and leaders in children’s social care to improve the system. And through Lincolnshire’s partnership with the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam, under the South Yorkshire Teaching Partnership, Laura has been able to notch up post-qualifying awards in teaching, leadership and management.
She gained expertise as a practice teacher and practice supervisor before becoming a team manager where she manages a team of practice supervisors. The practice supervisors are then responsible for frontline social workers. Laura also has a post-graduate certificate in leadership and management for social work from the University of Sheffield Management School.
“Because of the nature of social working, you need to constantly keep up with training, policies and law changes, which means learning and being passionate about learning are key to the role,” she says.