Luton Borough Council is on a journey. With an expanding career development offer, an incoming practice framework and opportunities to work with a diverse and growing community, it’s never been a more exciting time for social workers to join.
“There’s a fantastic opportunity to work with really skilled and knowledgeable colleagues across the professions to deliver good social work,” says Alli Parkinson, the council’s service director for operational children’s services.
“If you are an experienced social worker and you want an opportunity to grow that experience, then Luton brings diversity in community, and diversity in practice.”
Central to this is the council’s responsibility to move citizens away from poverty and improve the experience of citizenship in the town. Alli joined at the start of the year – and has elected to take on the role permanently – because of the opportunities for change, as well as the council’s “Luton Cares” ethos.
“It’s a simple message, but it’s great in today’s society. It’s important we do the best we can as a council to achieve those high aspirations for our citizens. That’s underpinned by services to children – they are the future.”
Flexibility and connectivity
Social workers at Luton Borough Council work flexibly to suit their personal circumstances. Alli points out that while the coronavirus pandemic has brought the opportunities of flexible working to the fore, the council has long had a policy for its practitioners to adapt working patterns to perform to their best.
Flexible hours and the ability to work part-time or in job shares are common. “For us it’s about moving from ‘nine to five’ to just being supportive – our families aren’t ‘nine to five’ in the way they need our support, so our workplace has to be flexible,” Alli says.
It’s not just staff benefitting from the policy, she adds. “Some of our younger people have said ‘we want to communicate with you like this, so it works for us’. We’re still going to visit families, but it’s about bringing that flexibility into everything we do – and being agile about how we do that. We’ve got the right equipment and the right connectivity.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has, of course, brought many challenges to effective social work practice and there was early anxiety within the council around how it could keep children and families safe – and how practitioners could support that.
But Luton reacted immediately to ensure staff safety and connectivity to do their jobs, with a focus on their and their service users’ wellbeing.
“It was about getting families connected to ensure that they had opportunities. Where they had to go to formal meetings, could those be done in a different way? Could we make sure all our care-experienced young adults were getting services they needed and that our staff were able to access the support networks needed to do that?”
Daily ‘touch-ins’ to ensure contact between teams were introduced, with the council recognising the value of colleague support – and acting accordingly.
“We looked at how they could connect, not just for work, but for wellbeing. Normally if you’re in the office you would have space to touch base with your colleagues, so we’ve worked with managers and staff to make that possible.”
Growing in your role
Luton has long been passionate about offering continuous career development, and this is expanding, including through the launch of its social care academy next month.
Training is centred on what staff need to be successful in their role, and the council can showcase practitioners taking advantage of this, including some that have completed council-funded master’s degrees.
A number of internal promotions to first-line management at the council this year has also meant progression and support is vital, with links to regional and national training through the Step Up to Social Work programme. The council also runs an internal coaching programme for managers once they’ve made that step to support them in their new roles.
Meanwhile Alli holds herself accountable “to set that standard and to ensure supervision is protected”. Monthly one-to-one supervision is imperative, along with regular group supervision, including discussions on how teams can learn together and peer mentoring on more difficult conversations.
Co-ownership and motivation
Alli acknowledges that Ofsted’s judgment of the council’s children’s services as ‘inadequate’ earlier this year has meant difficult messages for social work teams to hear. “Yes, it was difficult, but those messages were heard. It’s about reflecting on what you hear, owning that, and deep diving into what we need to know and how to improve practice.”
Now the focus is on motivation and co-owning that improvement journey with practitioners. Alli believes “the ingredients are all here to get Luton to ‘good’”, and those joining Luton will have many opportunities to act.
One example is the council’s review of its practice framework, reflecting on what has been learned from the family safeguarding model in place for the past two years.
“We’re in co-production at the moment with the teams to look at what we’ve learned and what we need to build on in terms of that model, but how in a wider strength and relationship-based approach do we create that all-encompassing practice framework,” Alli says.
What can you expect from Luton?
- A car allowance and a market supplement of £5,500 on top of basic salary.
- 26 days paid holiday, increasing to 31 after five years’ service.
- Availability of parking permits, childcare vouchers, up to 50% discount on rail season tickets and pension contributions.
- Flexible working opportunities, including part-time and compressed hours.
She is clear that social workers driving the improvement plan forward is central to the council achieving its goals and implores those joining to hold on to their high standards of practice – as well as bring their ideas.
“There’s a real opportunity to join into the co-production of improvement elements. It’s about joining in and bringing your skills and knowledge and experience, but also your motivation and your energy.”
Alli’s career history includes working with London boroughs and, with Luton less than 40 miles from the capital, she was prepared for a highly diverse, highly demanding environment.
There’s still work to do to get caseloads down and it’s a priority for the council to hit a target of 18 cases on average. “We know that good social work is done when practitioners have a manageable caseload. That’s something we’re supporting our social workers with and we’re increasing our capacity to make that happen,” Alli says.
“There are a lot of opportunities to try something different and be part of getting to good. It’s tough, but it’s exciting and no one day is the same. There’re so many different communities, cultures and citizens all coming together – it makes Luton a really exciting place.”
Are you interested in working at Luton Borough Council? Check out Luton’s latest vacancies here.