Employer Zone

Suffolk County Council

In the spotlight

Fostering a culture of learning and development that supports your social work journey

Allan Cadzow, director of Suffolk children’s services, celebrates with his colleagues after securing the silver award in social work employer of year category of the social worker of the year. He is joined by awards patron and presenter Lorraine Pascale (3rd from left) and James Rook, chief executive of headline sponsor Sanctuary Personnel (far right).

A feature sponsored by Suffolk County Council

In the nine years since Steve Blaney started his social work training at Suffolk Children & Young People’s Services, he has found the consistent support senior management has been crucial in shaping his career from a trainee all the way through to his current role as practice manager in children’s services.

Suffolk recently received the Silver Award in the best social work employer of the year for children’s services category at the national social worker of the year awards 2019. And this is testament to the way listening and learning culture that has been cultivated there.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to progress here and I think that that all started when I was a trainee really,” says Steve, who came out of a four-year English literature degree course in 2010, knowing that he wanted a career working with people but not quite sure where.

“At the time, Suffolk was advertising its graduate training scheme and what attracted me was this idea of being employed full-time, being able to earn money and getting practical experience at the same time. I did not really know what social work was about so working in a frontline team allowed me to see what the world was like before I committed to it and started my social work degree.”

Graduate training scheme

For people choosing to go down Steve’s path, the three-year MA graduate trainee scheme is delivered in partnership with the University of East Anglia (UEA) and is open to internal and external candidates keen to work in Suffolk’s children and young people’s services. In the first year, graduate trainees are employed in a frontline team, and in years two and three, they study full time at UEA towards their MA with practice placements arranged by Suffolk. Students pay for the course but if they agree to work in a frontline children’s social care team for a minimum of two years, they can access £6,200 per year.

Steve Blaney, practice manager

Steve’s experience as a trainee scheme placement was positive. He spent his assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) doing child protection, child in need work, court reports – all supported by experienced colleagues.
Suffolk’s ASYE programme fuses operational social workers and workforce development expertise by delivering key learning and development, supervision and support and a systematic approach to the quality assurance and improvement,” says AYSE lead Nicci Kenny. This was part of the reason why Suffolk received high praise by Skills for Care in March 2019.

Newly qualified social workers (NQSW) also have access to further support via monthly meetings run by our workforce development team. These meetings offer training and guidance around a range of topics applicable to NQSW including private law and courtroom skills, child exploitation and with hostility. This is also an opportunity for them to get together, reflect and use as a wellbeing session.

NQSW also benefit from weekly supervision in the first three months of their employment. NQSWs’ caseloads are protected at 15 in the first six months of their employment. This rises to 20 within the first year and after that, is at no more than 25, according to Steve.

Outstanding rating

This ethos of supporting staff in their day-to-day work is reflected in Suffolk’s outstanding Ofsted rating. “Staff feel and are valued,” the report cites. “They appreciate the quality of the training and professional development opportunities, which help them to have the right mix of knowledge and skills to deliver high quality help and protection, care and support.”

Steven credits his first mentor, a supervising social worker, as one of the main reasons he has remained at the local authority and progressed his career there.
“When I qualified, my first supervisor put a real value on the time we spent together. She was always keen to close down the laptop during supervision time and encourage me to talk through situations rather than being process-driven and focused on writing notes. I’ve tried to use her as a bit of a role model on how I would like to be. I’ve adapted it and have my own ways of dealing with things.”

Career progression

Since qualifying in 2013, Steven has progressed from social worker to consultant social worker in 2016 to practice manager 18 months later. He now manages a team of 10 social workers, who support around 200 children.

“I think the practical part of my progression from social worker to consultant social worker to manager was that I had access to a range of opportunities and grasped these. Initially as a newly qualified social worker I had the opportunity to complete complex work such as child protection report, court work, and parenting assessments with the support of experienced colleagues, then progressed to completing these on my own.
“As the years went by, I then started grasping opportunities to complete more and more CPD – things such as ABE (achieving best evidence) training, practice educator training, signs of safety practice lead training, in order to develop my knowledge and skills. I was always supported to do this by managers, which then left me in a good position to be confident to move into management roles.”

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