“I’ve never thought to leave Hampshire. They’ve always really supported me, and I like how they promote progression.”
This is Sarah Smith, who joined Hampshire County Council’s children’s services 17 years ago as an administrator. She now manages its county service manager for adoption and fostering adoption, ten years after qualifying as a social worker through an employment-based training programme.
Colleagues David Gale, a children and families support worker, and Jade Neilson, an intensive worker, are following in Sarah’s footsteps, having started in administration, moved into non-qualified practitioner roles, alongside studying through Hampshire’s social work apprenticeship scheme. David is due to qualify shortly, while Jade, whose role involves providing intensive, tailored support to families in high need to help them stay together, started her course last year.
Their stories are testament to the priority Hampshire places on career progression and in supporting staff to achieve what they set their minds to, wherever their journey started.
For all three, the key ingredients have been a culture that values staff at all levels and recognises potential, supportive management and the wide range of opportunities available in the county.
Support to access the training you need
“Hampshire invests long-term in career progression,” says Sarah.
This starts with a comprehensive training offer. For example, all staff are guaranteed five days’ continuing professional development, which they can use to access and attend seminars, workshops, conferences – whatever they need for individual development. For newly qualified social workers, Hampshire goes beyond the one-year assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) to offer its two-year Graduate Entry Training Scheme (GETS), to support those new to the profession get the best possible foundation for their practice.
Training is also tailored to the individual, to the point where, if there is something the authority doesn’t provide, practitioners are supported to find it externally.
Says Sarah: “If there’s training you want that Hampshire doesn’t provide, they will be happy for you to research the details and will support you to access it. If CoramBAAF [the practice body for adoption and fostering] has a relevant course on, I’ve always been supported to be able to undertake it.”
Training is also not restricted to your area of practice, she adds: “You don’t feel like you have to stick within your area – you can access any training you feel you need.”
Shadowing and secondment opportunities
Similarly, and beyond their five CPD days, practitioners are positively encouraged to shadow colleagues on other teams or access secondments.
Sarah says: “If I said to my manager, ‘I want to find out more about the youth offending team, can I spend a couple of weeks there?’, I know I would be supported to do that. We have a lot of people seconded into different roles – if people have expressed an interest in doing a particular role, they’re given that opportunity.
She takes a similar approach to her own teams.
“In fostering, we have a support team and a recruitment team, and I’ve had social workers say, ‘I want to know more about how foster carers are recruited’, so I encourage them to go and spend some time doing that.”
As Sarah’s example illustrates, these secondments serve to address knowledge gaps as well as open up opportunities. Jade and David have also benefited.
“I wanted to learn more about the legalities and process behind section 47 [child protection enquiries], so my managers told me to go and see an intake week on one of the children’s safeguarding and assessment teams,” says Jade. “It’s very much encouraged.”
David adds: “In my first year of my apprenticeship, it was identified that, because I was working in the children’s reception team [the first contact service], I wasn’t doing a huge amount of face-to-face work. I had a placement in my first year within the children’s missing and exploitation team, and that was to get some face-to-face experience. Management identify what you need and you grow as a result.”
This means that, when roles come up, practitioners who have shadowed or been seconded into the relevant team are well-placed to apply.
Opportunities also exist beyond Hampshire’s boundaries, in the improvement work it does with other councils as a sector-led improvement partner.
Sarah has supported colleagues in both the Isle of Wight and West Sussex, both of which have improved with Hampshire’s support.
“There is always lots to learn from other authorities.” she says.
Keeping the passion alive
The variety of work on offer in Hampshire keeps social work fresh, Sarah adds.
“There are always lots of opportunities in Hampshire. I did frontline social work, worked with the children with disabilities and early intervention teams, then moved into fostering and adoption. That’s been really helpful in keeping that passion alive.”
Common to Sarah, Jade and David’s experiences is the support they’ve received from their managers.
Sarah says: “My managers have been particularly supportive; they’ve always pushed for things for me. They’ve always been keen to help me progress – I’ve had managers who’ve been willing to support my applications to different positions.”
For Jade, supportive management has been key to her being able to juggle her job and apprenticeship.
“I have a protected day [for the apprenticeship],” she says. “My managers make sure I’m taking that protected day and say, ‘make sure you turn your work phone off’. I have a new manager who said, ‘is there any additional training for university that we can help you with?’. They want you to achieve – nobody wants you to fail.”
This support extends to helping practitioners balance work and their personal lives and, more generally, to look after themselves.
“Your manager is also supporting you,” says Sarah. “I remember a difficult day when I got home at 11 and texted my manager, who called immediately to say, ‘are you ok?’. “The old cliché that it feels like a family – it really does.”
David adds: “Hampshire helped me get a role near to where I lived so I’d have a shorter journey. I’ve got an assistant team manager at the moment who will not be happy unless you’ve clocked off for the day and you’re safe. As well, they will say, ‘you worked late this evening, make sure you take that time back’ so that you are emotionally present for the next day.”
A few years ago, Hampshire introduced nine-day fortnights for staff to enable better self-care.
“It’s up to individuals how they use the spare day, says Sarah. “Its helps staff take time back and look after their emotional wellbeing. I think it makes a huge difference. You don’t mind staying out late,working long hours and facing challenges if you’re going to have time to build yourself back up and get back to being ‘you’.”
An accessible management team
The culture is also one where senior leadership is accessible to staff.
Previously, intensive workers were employed on a temporary basis. Jade, along with a colleague, felt there was a strong case for making them permanent. So, they wrote to the director of children’s services Steve Crocker, and deputy director Stuart Ashley. Stuart agreed to meet with them to discuss this further and hear their thoughts in person
“Initially, when we wrote the email, I was a little nervous and thought I should send it to my district manager,” says Jade. “But I got a response really quickly. I very much felt listened to.”
“I like how approachable senior managers are – we can email Stuart or Steve and you won’t feel like you’re stepping out of line,” echoes Sarah.
‘We want everyone to succeed’
David is now looking ahead to the Graduate Entry Training Scheme (GETS) programme, which he starts this autumn.
He says: “I’m going to be working with a safeguarding team for a number of months to make sure I have that frontline experience. They are going to give me protected time and a protected caseload and I will still have a practice educator.
“You get that gradual moving forward, you get that, ‘are you ok, how are you feeling capacity wise, this is the next step for your progression, are you willing to take it?’ It really feels like you’re being supported every step of the way.”
Sarah agrees: “If there’s anything you need, your manager is there to help you. If you’ve got someone struggling with any element of their role, there is always flexibility and a solution. We want everyone to succeed.”