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Somerset County Council

In the spotlight

Podcasts and advent calendars: rethinking CPD for social workers

Vanessa Hodge (2nd from left) and Charley Clark (3rd from right)

Somerset's adults’ services are looking more widely at how they can support social workers when face-to-face training is not an option

Podcasts. A decade ago hardly anyone had heard of them but now more than 7 million in the UK listen to podcasts every week according to Ofcom.

These on-demand audio sessions are easy to listen to while driving, walking the dog or even cooking the evening meal…so why not use them for CPD?

Vanessa Hodge, Adults’ Principal Social Worker (PSW) in Somerset, has done just that as a way of improving the CPD offer during the COVID-19 pandemic when social workers often felt isolated from teammates and colleagues.

Learning opportunity

“I’ve always loved podcasts myself. Then one day I was listening to File on 4 on BBC Sounds and it was about long-term hospital stays. I realised it was a learning opportunity – I was understanding the different experiences of people involved and spent a long time reflecting on what it meant for social work practice. I thought about why I loved shows like Desert Island Discs and it’s because those interviews often motivate and inspire me. So, I thought why not try it as a different learning experience for our social workers?”

Working closely with Social Work England she checked podcasts could be used as evidence of CPD under the new rules, and then used the run up to Christmas as an ideal time to put her ideas into action.

“We had a practice advent calendar with 18 days of virtual CPD. Each day social workers could open a CPD window that had something new in it. It included two podcasts featuring interviews with Somerset social workers.”

One was an interview with a social worker who helps formulate NICE guidance and the second was an interview with two approved mental health professionals (AMHPs) Lynda Cooper and Charley Clark.

Explain and inspire

Charley, who has only just qualified in this area, says while she is always up for doing new things she was nervous about the podcast until she managed to “rope in” in Lynda, a more experienced AMHP colleague.

“Vanessa wanted us to explain and inspire others about the AMHP role. Having us both there meant it was like a conversation and that made it much easier. And it isn’t difficult talking about something you love.”

Vanessa says she was ‘blown away’ by the results.

“We did some myth busting about the role and they talked about some of their experiences. They were both so eloquent and informed and passionate about the role that it really made me want to be an AMHP. It was amazing!”

Breaking down barriers

Vanessa believes the podcast will help social workers better understand other teams and help them work across traditional silos. Charley agrees with this.

“I really enjoyed the practice advent calendar Vanessa put together and I tuned in most days. I particularly liked hearing about other teams and it felt quite refreshing, after working from home for so long, to hear from other people in the service. It’s not the same as face-to-face CPD because you can’t spark a discussion between each other, but I have gotten a lot out of the calendar.”

Charley says she has found different times of the day to tune in and can fit it in around her quiet moments.

Vanessa is passionate about social workers becoming advocates for the profession. She is keen that in her new role as PSW she builds a community of practice amongst Somerset’s adults’ social workers.

Sharing and promoting internal knowledge

“We can’t be passive. Nursing has a strong identity, and it seems to me that if we want to push for a parity of esteem then we need to similarly contribute to our own evidence base and to cultures of research.

“Down the track I’d like to start developing research posts in the service, but it all starts with harnessing, sharing and promoting the knowledge that’s in our own organisation.”

Vanessa’s ambition is for a podcast series that will include interviews with outside experts as well as continuing to share the knowledge inside Somerset.

“The challenges are that everyone is so busy and pressured and of course nervous. But I’m hoping that we can inspire everyone and show there’s no one way to contribute to our community of practice.”

Thinking creatively about professional development

As an example, she says she wrote a blog in the wake of George Floyd’s death on social work and racism. Another Somerset social worker, Eddie Dube, was then inspired to write a reflection piece on trust, race and power.

“It was an incredible piece and I felt so privileged to work with him after reading it. I sent it off to the Social Worker of the Year awards and it gained national attention from the chief social workers. Eddie was then interviewed on video which became part of the ‘Thank you social workers’ virtual event which replaced the Social Worker of the Year awards in 2020,” Vanessa says.

“I really want to show that our ideas of professional development and career progression should be more elastic. There’s so much more we can do to help spread knowledge and develop ourselves into the bargain.”

Read Eddie Dube’s blog on trust, race and power or check out his video interview.

Like to know more about working in Somerset Adult Social Care Services and the opportunities on offer? Check out Somerset’s social work recruitment page.