Workforce Insights

Surrey County Council

Frontline view

How the family safeguarding model is making a difference to social workers

Surrey’s social workers talk about the changes and good practices that are now improving their day-to-day working lives

Surrey’s improvement journey so far has been based on a vision set out by the late Dave Hill, former director of children’s services. Before an organisation can deliver outstanding services to children, he argued, it must first create the right conditions for success.

Rachael Wardell, Surrey’s current director of children’s services, is of the same opinion and says she has no intention of dismantling the carefully constructed improvement plan.

She is, she says, committed to ensuring that Surrey is a place where social workers, and great social work, thrives.

There are 10 key elements that make up this vision and among them are: a unifying use of models of social work practice, manageable caseloads, small teams, minimum transfers of cases and a focus on recruitment, retention and development of staff.

Community Care spoke to four frontline social workers and managers at Surrey to find out how this vision is being experienced by those at the coalface and what Surrey now does well in terms of children’s social work practice.

Samantha Paterson, Social Worker (locum), South West Safeguarding Team

“I’ve actually just recommended a really good friend of mine to come and work here because I’ve been so impressed!

“I live in Essex so Surrey’s approach to flexible working has been key for me and I’m finding it a good mix of home working and going into the office.

“I was attracted to work for Surrey because I knew they were using the family safeguarding model. I’m a pragmatic social worker so, for me, having all these extra professionals at my fingertips is just amazing.

“I was able to pick up the phone to a domestic violence expert and a psychologist the other day and spend an hour on the phone talking and hypothesising and coming up with solutions. I’ve never had that before.

“I’ve also been really impressed with my manager and the supervision here. They really listen and understand. I’ve felt the whole system is quite kind to social workers which in turn impacts on how we work with families. That’s been nice for me as this was not my experience in my last job.

“The Surrey interview was tough, so I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived, but I’ve had nothing but positive experiences. I feel I can do good social work here – I’m supported but there’s also trust and autonomy.”

Farah Khalid – Team Manager, North East Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC) Team

“I first came to Surrey as a locum. I live in Berkshire and I’m a single mum with five children so I couldn’t just relocate when I decided I wanted to go permanent. But Surrey have been amazing – incredibly flexible about how I work and when I need to go into the office.

“I started in the Looked After Children team and became a manager. Then last year I was asked to help set up this new team for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. It hasn’t been easy, given the pandemic, but I’ve got the most amazing managers which has really helped. My service manager, Keith Warren, and my assistant director, Juliette Blake, were really instrumental in my decision to go permanent. I’ve had health concerns recently and they were just so brilliant supporting me so I could make the medical appointments.

“It feels as if Surrey knows how important it is to have a happy workforce because if your workers are happy then they will go that extra mile for you. I think that started with Dave Hill. It was so tragic when he passed away, but you can still feel his legacies around wellbeing and support. And that’s not just for social workers but for the young people we’re trying to support as well.

“I also like all the training and tools we’re getting now. We’ve all had motivational interviewing training and more recently our team has had pathway plan training for both social workers and personal assistants and we’re also all getting regular case supervision. I think all the social workers and PAs feel really supported by the team managers now and the low caseloads help with a better work-life balance.

For me it feels like there’s no longer a blame culture here and it’s now a learning culture.”

Stephen Boxall – Social Worker, South West Safeguarding Adolescents Team

“I would say the best thing about Surrey at the moment is the willingness to embrace new models. For example, the family safeguarding model and having access to these new specialists has really opened up how we can help families and young people.”

“Coronavirus has obviously changed the world completely and our referrals have gone through the roof, particularly in terms of young people’s mental health. But I do 100% feel more confident about facing that challenge now we have the family safeguarding model in place. The fact I now have direct access to psychologists and substance misuse specialists is reassuring.

“The restructure of the teams was important as well so that we now have dedicated adolescent safeguarding teams. And I’m very positive about the contextual safeguarding model they are going to introduce because the current child protection processes just don’t work for teens.

“If you’re working with a 15-year-old it takes a really long time to build up a relationship with them. You can’t help them until they start to trust you so you need the time to build that and I feel like our current approach, and the forthcoming contextual safeguarding approach, helps us in that.

“The multi-agency approach is so much stronger in Surrey now than it used to be. It definitely used to feel that as soon as children’s social work was involved everyone else would take a step back. I think Dave Hill did a lot to really make sure we were working more effectively with other agencies and you can feel that on the ground now.”

Wilma Hewitt, Senior Social Worker, South East Safeguarding Adolescents Team

“The new family safeguarding model works much better for me. When I used to go into a house I would make it clear I was there as the child’s social worker but Mum and Dad would be saying: “hey, this is impacting on me and you don’t care about me and what’s difficult for me”.

“Now we have people in the same team working with Mum and Dad to help them so we can all try to keep the family together and that’s much better. It helps build better relationships and for me it’s all about relationship based social work – that’s who I am as a social worker.

“We’ve also got good reflective supervision for social workers which is really important for that relationship building and because in the adolescent safeguarding team you can see some awful things.

“So, I can already feel the benefits of the new approaches. We are waiting to see how it clicks properly in terms of contextual safeguarding for adolescents but I’m definitely seeing some nuggets of gold that mean I want to stay.”

If you’re interested in finding out more about working at Surrey simply register your interest, call on 01483 518 672 or email If you’re interested in working in a particular regional area then use these specific registration links – north west quadrant, north east quadrant, south east quadrant, south west quadrant.