“Social workers are leaders of systems, so the social work academy needs to be a platform for developing leaders.”
Lee-Anne Farach, Medway’s assistant director of children’s social care, is speaking alongside her principal social worker, Lori Goossen, about the relaunch of Medway’s social work academy next month.
It is part of an overhaul of the learning and development offer in Medway that also includes the recruitment of a new role entirely focused on leadership and management development.
“I think this is an unusual post in social care,” Lori says. “But it’s important. As Lee-Anne says social workers need leadership skills to do their job more effectively and we also need to be better preparing them for the roles that lie ahead. In Medway we don’t have assistant team manager roles so that first step up can feel quite big. Social workers can need a lot of coaching and support in this area and that’s what the academy will be able to provide now.”
Strengthening multi-agency working
It is a vital step on the road the council has already taken to improve children’s services since Ofsted’s ‘inadequate’ rating in July 2019.
Lee-Anne says that in the last 10 months they have been able to reforge some of the relationships with multi-agency partners that had been damaged following the inspection report.
“For example, we’re getting a Medway child friendly offer and that has galvanised partners from a whole range of different sectors so we can really begin to get some integrated working in place,” she says.
The relaunch of the academy is also being done in partnership with adults’ services in a bid to further strengthen some of those relationships.
“The more people can learn together the more they can develop those internal relationships and understanding of different roles,” Lee-Anne adds.
Regular and consistent learning
The academy will consist of four main strands: leadership and management, student social workers, newly qualified social workers and CPD.
Lori says the focus is on making sure Medway becomes a learning organisation and to this end the CPD offer has been adapted to match it better to social worker needs and encourage regular and consistent learning.
“For example, we’re doing a lot more bite-size learning so it is easier for social workers to fit in. Sessions are on at odd hours so practitioners can attend either in work hours or outside of them. They are usually a one or two-hour introductions to topics and then signposting to helpful resources. We are also investing in extra tools such as Community Care Inform to help with this.”
In addition, there are regular learning reviews on cases where things have gone wrong. “We create a safe and non-judgmental space to look at practice in the right way and look at what we can learn from that case and from each other. Often these cases can trigger conflicts between professionals and so these reviews are also about trying to heal some of those relationships,” Lori adds.
Celebrating great social work
But learning comes from success as well as failure she points out.
“Alongside our learning reviews we also conduct ‘success reviews’ to try and identify what it was that made a difference in those cases where we have seen real success and change.”
For Lee-Anne this is a vital element of the rebooted social work academy, which she feels should be as much about a celebrating great social work as it is a learning vehicle.
“Just like a sports academy is thought of as a place where there is learning and a focus on excellence, I want the same for the social work academy – it should become a badge that signifies focus, attention, support and a quest for excellence.”
She points out it is as important for social workers and services to know what they are doing right as it is for them to know what they are doing wrong to keep motivation levels high.
Contributions from parents and young people
“When I first arrived, I was given quite a long list of ‘complaints’ that had been made about children’s social work. I asked if there were any ‘compliments’ as there’s usually a facility for both types of feedback, but we hadn’t really been asking for compliments. Now that we give people the opportunity to provide both types of feedback we are getting at least as many compliments as complaints. As we continue on our improvement journey, I’m very confident the compliments will start to outweigh the complaints.”
Lori adds that she is also working to improve the role played in the academy by those children and families that social workers are trying to help.
“We’ve had workshops and webinars delivered by some of our young people and parents – just talking through the experience of being in receipt of our services.
“I had feedback from social workers that it was one of the best hours’ they’ve ever spent on CPD. It’s really important we tie all the learning we do back to the core task of who we are trying to help and why.”
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