Gemma recently joined Lincolnshire County Council from the care sector. A change in her health and circumstances meant she needed to consider a role that had more defined hours and flexibility. This career change enabled Gemma to continue working in social care while meeting her own personal and professional goals and ambitions. “I got to the stage where I really needed to do something different, but also wanted to stay in the social care sector,” she says.
Working as a carer in the care sector gave Gemma a strong foundation and understanding of people and their needs. With these skills she has been able to transfer her learning and continue to build on her knowledge and experience and inform her new role.
Gemma was inspired to consider a change of role following a conversation with a staff member from Lincolnshire’s Skegness team. The staff member, who was working towards a social work qualification funded by adult care explained the role and how the council had opportunities for professional development and career progression, including social work apprenticeships. Gemma decided to follow the same path and successfully applied for the community care officer role in Lincolnshire’s adult frailty and long term conditions team.
Gemma’s new role as a community care officer (CCO) involves working with adults in a variety of community settings to identify an individual’s needs, strengths and desired outcomes. CCOs also support qualified staff and provide a range of information, advice and guidance to maximise people’s independence, navigate the health and social care sector and if required, assess, and commission support services to help meet all their needs.
Joining the team on the 1 April – almost a week after the UK lockdown was enforced – would be a stressful time for anyone starting a new role. But with support from the team, Gemma hasn’t regretted the move.
Armed with her laptop and access to virtual platforms Zoom and Microsoft Teams, she was able to connect immediately with her managers and peers. Gemma has built relationships not only within her team, but with service users via the phone or MS Teams and, where necessary, has carried out face-to-face visits, supported with all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) by the council.
Gemma has also been able to access an extensive online training offer since joining. “Even though I started this job during lockdown, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on training,” she says. “I have learnt so much over the past few months and I am just grabbing it with both hands.”
Lincolnshire adult care has a dedicated workforce quality and development team who have worked with commissioned trainers so that 90% of its training is compatible with virtual platforms. This work ensures staff have access to all the relevant legislative and practice guidance, but also ensures the training offer is concise enough not to trigger video fatigue.
Where lockdown has heightened concerns about the physical and mental wellbeing of staff, Lincolnshire has adapted existing support structures and used past experiences of dealing with crisis situations – such as flooding in the county – to respond swiftly.
“We’ve always considered staff wellbeing an important part of what we do and had a strong offer around personal resilience and wellbeing,” says Simon Garner, workforce quality and development practitioner in Lincolnshire’s workforce quality and development team.
“When Covid-19 hit us, we liaised with some of our specialist trainers to quickly develop and deliver a suite of half-day virtual workshops. These were all focused on supporting staff to manage and develop strategies to deal with stress, wellbeing and relaxation.”
Staff involvement and engagement has been a priority from early on in the pandemic, sharing challenges, concerns they felt were emerging and importantly recognition of their achievements. One such group is a staff welfare group “Staff welfare meetings are chaired by Paul Bassett, head of service for adult frailty and long term conditions, and meet daily. If we hear that something is happening in a team or part of the county, these meetings mean we can share good practice or come up with a plan and implement it quickly, ” says Simon. “This ability to get people together quickly, listen to what’s happening on the ground and come up with a solution is a really good way to respond to what is an evolving situation.”
Some of those challenges and concerns from staff centred on wellbeing and PPE availability. As a result, Lincolnshire’s commercial team, which ordinarily dealt with contracts around care homes, became a PPE hub and ensured care providers, carers, personal assistants and other key staff received adequate PPE supplies.
People have felt isolated during lockdown, so we have allocated that extra time talking to people
Lincolnshire adult care also prioritised communication and developed a series of weekly guides for staff ‘workforce matters’. These guides were issued every week and covered topics such as anxiety, managing stress, wellbeing, bereavement and relaxation. For Gemma, these support structures have been invaluable. And she has been able to feed that support on to her service users.
“People have felt isolated – like we all have – during lockdown,” she says. “So, when we have carried out reviews, we have allocated that extra time talking to people about what is important to them, what support they have available every day in their local community and their expectations.”
This approach has helped to allay people’s concerns, and has allowed Gemma to pick up any worries early on and tackle them. Gemma has also been able to use her skills to support the people she works with to access local resources and networks so that they reach their goals. It has been a really worrying time, especially for the people we work with. From the outset we have kept in regular contact with people and we know from feedback that they have really appreciated this support.
Simon believes it is examples like these that the service can learn from to develop gold standard lessons. It shows how staff are applying Lincolnshire’s strength-based approaches and using innovation to make a difference to people’s lives.
“What we have been doing over the last few years is really promoting the benefits and principles of strengths-based practice, giving our staff permission to focus on the outcomes that people want to achieve,” he says. “So it is heartening to know that staff are being innovative. They are our most important asset and that has really come to the fore during these challenging times.”
For Gemma, being able to continue in a sector she loves, absorb and apply new knowledge, while knowing she has the support of the organisation and her colleagues has been key. “It’s the best move I’ve made. I’ve got the work/home life balance spot on – once I’ve finished my work I can shut the laptop and close the door to the dining room. I have honestly never felt so supported.”
Paul adds: “We recognise the benefits of recruiting the best staff and ensuring they remain with us. There are many reasons why people want to work in adult social care in Lincolnshire including our new strengths-based ‘initial conversation’ model.
“Part of the offer to our workforce in adult social care is training and on-going career development. We do this through our excellent in-house training programme, There are also further career opportunities through our in-house apprenticeship schemes. Apprenticeships allow staff to develop new professional skills to benefit not only themselves and the people they work with, but also the whole organisation. In adult social care, we aspire to the best outcomes for the people who use our services and need the best people to help us do this.”
To find out more about a career in Lincolnshire adult social care, visit their jobs’ page here.