Join Wandsworth Council and use your social work experience and expertise to shape children’s services. This is the clarion call to frontline social practitioners from Paul Angeli, assistant director at Wandsworth, as the local authority’s children’s services gear up to introduce the family safeguarding model.
This call comes after Wandsworth’s May 2018 Ofsted inspection, which recommended improvements in areas including longer-term child protection planning, early permanence and leadership, management and governance.
Staff in Wandsworth have been bruised by the Ofsted inspection which has had a knock-on impact on staff retention rates, says Paul.
These recommendations were followed in June 2019 by an inspection visit, which called for improvements in social work practice linked to understanding and applying thresholds for initiating child protection process. Other areas included the timeliness of assessments for children in need, seeking and recording parental consent, and partner engagement in strategy discussions.
On a positive note, staff said they enjoyed working in Wandsworth and were positive about the support from team managers and regular personal supervision.
‘Staff really value the ‘open door’ approach of senior managers, including the director’s ‘breakfast’ sessions,’ according to the Ofsted report. ‘Attendance at training by social workers is prioritised by managers, despite the high volume of work in the service overall.’
Staff really value the ‘open door’ approach of senior managers
The council is keen to build on these positives and Paul says is committed to delivering on these recommendations for improvement to transform the way children’s services are delivered.
“My experience is people want to come and work in an organisation where the managers have a clear vision about what they want to achieve,” says Paul. “But that vision does not come from the director or assistant director – it is built through involving and engaging social workers and building and developing a way that they want to practice.”
Staff engagement is clearly something staff at Wandsworth value. Staff told Ofsted inspectors that they enjoyed working in Wandsworth and were positive about the support from team managers and regular personal supervision.
Wandsworth will be building on this by inviting staff to engage with Paul through a series of quarterly meetings that look at the vision of children’s services, and how that vision is implemented.
“It’s really important that social workers feel supported in their day-to-day jobs of delivering care to children,” says Paul. “I will be meeting with groups of staff without their managers to ask them how they see things. Developing a framework underpinned by the values of staff is a way to ensure the transformation is embedded. There is nothing worse than having a manager in the room when you want to speak, and this approach aims to ensure social workers have the space to speak candidly.”
Paul hopes that addressing the concerns of social workers will be a positive step in bolstering staff retention. The council is focusing on staff safety in the first instance and will be engaging staff on other areas linked to training and supervision where they feel this needs to be improved.
“If there is a problem with the building staff work in, the kitchen, the toilets or parking is an issue – that can all be going on as background noise,” says Paul. “But then if you have caseloads that are too high in that same month and you are stressed out, this has a cumulative impact. Once people have crossed that line and want to leave, it is harder for them to come back,” says Paul. “Retention is key. When you get the retention right, people will come because what you are saying internally to existing staff is the same as what you are saying externally to prospective employees.”
Running alongside plans to better engage with social workers is Wandsworth’s strategy to develop its own family safeguarding model.
The family safeguarding model aims to keep more families together, improve outcomes for children and reduce levels of harm, by improving the quality of assessment and direct work practitioners offer families and addressing the root causes of need, notably parental mental illness, substance misuse and domestic abuse. To achieve this, multi-disciplinary teams combining children’s social workers and practitioners who have expertise in domestic abuse, substance misuse and mental health.
As in other areas of England that have implemented family safeguarding, all relevant staff in Wandsworth will be trained in motivational interviewing (MI) – a counselling style that seeks to improve adults’ motivation to change negative behaviours by focusing on their strengths and capacity to change. And most of them will be trained around systemic practice over the course of the next two to three years, says Paul.
In addition, social workers will use assessment workbooks designed to reduce the burden of recording and, in doing so caseloads – which average at about 16 – will be designed to make the process of recording more manageable.
Pioneered by Hertfordshire in 2015, the family safeguarding model has already been adopted by several local authorities across England with positive results. Hertfordshire has seen the number of children on child protection plans reduce by 55% in 30 months. The model will be rolled out in Wandsworth from 2020 and full implementation is expected by 2021, says Paul. “This will make the local authority the only one in London to use the model, which will hopefully attract social workers from across the capital.”