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Medway Council

In the spotlight

Home-grown social work careers

From l to r: Lori Goossen, Gemma Winspear, Kelly Cogger

Medway’s Children’s Services is building on its strengths when it comes to career progression pathways in the council

Exit interviews are common in social work but ‘stay’ interviews – asking people why they stay with an organisation – are less so.

Yet Lori Goossen, Medway’s principal social worker for children’s services, says it’s even more important to understand why people stay as why they leave.

“It’s really important to us to create opportunities for staff to share their experiences of working here so we know what we’re doing well and what we need to improve to create the best working experience we can. They are actively involved in making Medway the best place to be to support families and grow a career.”

After conducting 30 interviews, so far, she says most people have cited supportive managers as the reason they stay.

Lateral and vertical career progression

It’s one of the reasons Medway has appointed a dedicated leadership and management development lead so there is ongoing, in-house support for managers.

“It has also reiterated the importance of a career progression scheme, not just to move up, but also to move laterally,” Lori adds.

Kelly Cogger, head of first response and targeted services at Medway, has been with the council for 30 years and has no regrets about doing so.

“I first started voluntary work with Kent Social Services when I finished school, working with adolescents at risk of exclusion.  At that time my mum was an unqualified social worker with Kent, and we both moved across to work for Medway Council when it became a unitary authority in 1998.

Supportive managers

“I gained a permanent post working in a role similar to what is now known as an early help worker. When thinking about my next steps, I spoke with one of the heads of service at the time about training to become a social worker and she encouraged and supported me in applying for a bursary to study for a social work diploma with the Open University.”

Kelly also received a job offer to join the police force at the time and says it was supportive and encouraging managers who kept her where she was.

“When I started my training, I was working in the 16+ team and then moved to the looked-after children’s team. My practice educator, who is still working here, gave me a fantastic induction to social work. It really grounded me. As I was discovering there were good days and bad days in social work, she was always there supporting me through it all.”

She was later encouraged by a senior manager to move into the duty and assessment team.

“I was really nervous about the transition and the new challenge. I felt that there was so much responsibility. Within this team you were often the first social worker many families had met, and that initial engagement is so important. But it was absolutely the right move because I found my passion. I continue to believe in the importance of getting it right at the earliest opportunity for children and families, and that by providing early intervention you can really make a difference.”

Strong team relationships

When she was promoted to team manager, Kelly says her team became an extension of her family.

“The strong relationships we developed supported the children and families we worked with. And I was able to share my love and passion for social work with others. I’m still in touch with many of them!”

Kelly admits she never aspired to go into management because she loved frontline social work so much. However, after acting up in the role of group manager, she realised it was a way to have a greater impact.

“I now lead first response and targeted services and am working with so many passionate, experienced and knowledgeable practitioners. I’m happy, I love my role in Medway and have made so many positive working relationships which enable us all to make a difference. It’s incredibly rewarding.”

She is by no means unusual as a manager who has spent a career at Medway. Kelly says it gives a sense of continuity, consistency, experience and knowledge that is a key element in how supported younger social workers feel at the authority.

Gemma Winspear is an advanced social work practitioner in the principal social work team and has also spent her career at Medway without regrets.

Feeling protected

“I completed all my student placements at Medway, initially in the adults’ team but then in children’s services. After I qualified, I was offered a position in the duty team for initial and core assessments. I was really apprehensive, but it was the best decision I ever made.”

Gemma too points to her manager at the time as having a huge influence on her.

“I felt really protected. I felt I could learn and make mistakes and that was ok. She was incredibly experienced and knowledgeable, and I learnt such a lot from her.”

Gemma’s career changed direction when she fell pregnant and had to deal with a case involving an extremely dangerous man with a long criminal history.

“I have always worked and lived in the same area and this child’s case suddenly made me feel apprehensive about that.”

She says that, despite being well supported through it all, she made the difficult decision that she needed to take a break from working in frontline services and applied to the adoption team.

“Everyone kept telling me I would struggle to adapt to the slow pace of life but actually the learning curve was really steep. I loved it though.”

Sharing knowledge and passion

Gemma says she enjoyed developing her knowledge and skills as she learned more about the impact of trauma, brain development, attachment theories and how to interpret behaviour.

“I was also supported to undertake a training course with Adoption Plus, run by Joanne Alper and Karen Treismann, on therapeutic social work. As a social worker I grew massively because of that investment in my learning.”

She was asked to develop in-house and partner training to disseminate some of what she had learned and, in doing so, discovered a real enthusiasm for learning and development.

“I’ve become a fierce advocate to ensure people have positive experiences early in their career because I know how much it shaped my own experience. So, when this role came up with a responsibility for newly qualified social workers and their ASYE year, I decided to go for it.”

Using in-house expertise to grow

Gemma says she’s now incredibly excited to be part of Lori’s team, developing tools to help social workers grow and thrive.

“I love that 90% of our training is in-house because it’s really using the expertise that’s already here, but also means practitioners can get great follow-up support. If a practitioner wants a joint visit to help them apply the training in practice, that’s not a problem to organise. I think that’s really powerful.”

Gemma feels lucky she has been able to grow and develop as a social worker while still having the time and headspace to be a good mum. She says this has been made possible because of supportive managers and flexible working.

“I could have applied for manager roles, but I chose not to because I wanted to focus on my family. I’ve really appreciated that here it hasn’t harmed my ability to develop a career that I still love and feel so passionate about.”

Are you interested in a social work career with Medway children’s services? Search for jobs or check out its employer profile.