“It can be tough, emotionally. You have to have people you can rely on. Judith bakes the best banana bread and brings that in when we’ve had tough days and tough weeks. She wants to know we’ve got home ok. You may have had a really tough time in court. She knows how that feels.”
This is Northamptonshire Children’s Trust (NCT) senior social worker Jodie Coles discussing the nurture and support she receives from her manager, Judith McCarthy.
Key to Judith’s approach, says Jodie, who works in a safeguarding team, is getting to know each member of her team, personally and professionally.
“I pride myself on knowing when they’ve got something else going on,” says Judith. “If a staff member has a particular issue, I always check in with them privately, whether work is going to be manageable for them today.
‘There’s nothing we can’t deal with’
“So sometimes you just say, ‘why don’t you take the time off to deal with what you’re dealing with and we will sort out your caseload?’. There’s nothing we can’t deal with. It may be something that’s stressful for the other team members, but I say to them, ‘that might happen to you on your cases’.
Her style of management is far from unique in NCT, the independent trust set up in 2020 to run the county’s children’s services, now on behalf of North and West Northamptonshire councils.
In the children in care service, Danny Johnson recalls how managers responded after he caught Covid in March 2021, two months into his assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE). He was subsequently off for three months, followed by a six-month phased return.
“I was really supported to take the time I’d needed,” he says. “When I came back, I had a lot of difficulties with breathing and got tired very quickly. I did three days a week, a couple of hours a day. I then built that up over a long period of time. I was supported with my caseload. I was always supported to attend doctors’ or hospital appointments. I was always able to be open with the management about what I needed.”
‘Everyone supports each other’
Abigail Marsden, strategic manager, corporate parenting – a role that involves heading children in care and care leaver services – says: “I try and foster a whole-service response. So, when someone’s ill, everyone supports each other. The management team make sure they know each other’s staff and each other’s cases, so we can support people to take the time they need.”
Such nurturing management not only helps practitioners feel cared for but also fosters their career development.
Judith says she seeks to identify where her team members want to go in their careers and then helps to get them there.
“What I always ask my workers is ‘where do you want to be in five years’ time?’. They might say, ‘I don’t know’, or, ‘I want to become a practice educator’, so we look at what they need to get the experience they need.
Building confidence and experience
“A couple of years ago, a member of my team wanted to become a senior social worker, so I would give her more complex cases. She worked very well with those complex cases and that gave her the confidence and experience to go for those senior social worker posts. Now she’s a team manager. For me, it’s about identifying what would be helpful for them and what would enhance their experience really, so they’ve got the confidence and knowhow to share what they already know.”
Jodie and her colleague, Danika Williams, who is currently doing her assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), have seen the benefits of this approach.
“She gets to know us, individually,” says Jodie “When she’s allocating cases, she gets to know what you can manage and gives you something that stretches you and gets you thinking.
“Judith has also put me forward for training that’s going to benefit my assessment writing and insight into child development. I’m going to do some therapeutic training. She identifies what she thinks you need. She does that as a manager without you having to identify it, over and above what you look for yourself.”
Danika adds: “We had supervision recently and Judith asked me where I wanted to be. I wasn’t sure whether safeguarding was for me. So, she’s going to arrange for me to shadow some other teams, which she doesn’t have to do.”
Danny worked in adults’ services, for the former Northamptonshire County Council, before training to become a social worker. He ended up doing his placements in a children in care team, which convinced him that his future lay in children’s services. While he returned to adults’ services after qualifying, he secured a job at NCT a few months later.
Abigail says that his potential was spotted as a student and has been fostered since.
“Before I got to know you Danny, I said we couldn’t have students doing court work,” she says. “But the managers who championed him absolutely saw that potential and convinced me. There’s a lot of consideration about the staff who join us in terms of what is suitable for them and where would they best fit in the trust right now.”
Danny adds: “While I was a student I had a lot of discussions with our service manager, and our team manager, who were really supportive about me coming over from adults’ services after qualifying. That ability to see people’s potential is definitely pushed.”
Encouragement to develop
Danny also praises the support he’s received with his learning and development.
“The trust has been really supportive of my development,” he says. “There’s always training available and room to develop as a social worker, which I’m really happy with.
He’s now looking ahead to potentially training to become a practice educator, and says he’s “being encouraged to go for it”.
“I want to support students and give something back,” he adds.
Abigail adds: “Danny would be a very good practice educator. I’ve heard him speak to an adult on the phone can see how he’s brought over those skills from adults’ services, which transfer well to supporting students.”
Meanwhile, Jodie is taking a leaf out of Judith’s book, in supporting Danika as a buddy. During her own ASYE, she felt this was something that was missing for her – and so she put forward the idea for a buddy system and this was accepted.
“It means you have this one person you can go to, who knows what’s missing in your learning and that’s what I’ve applied to Danika.”
For her part, Danika says the support she’s received from Jodie is “invaluable”.
Strategic manager for safeguarding Greta Ullfors says: “I’m really impressed with Jodie’s attitude, and you could really see the potential from the way she behaves and the relationships she builds. With a good, nurturing manager you can really see how social workers flourish. It’s a pleasure to watch and observe.”
Find out more
Another facet of NCT is the accessibility of senior management, starting with chief executive Colin Foster.
He says: “I am more than happy to speak to anyone who is thinking of joining us here at NCT. It’s a really exciting time to join us on our journey, there are plenty of opportunities for training, development and progression within an organisation that has a culture of support, challenge, collaboration and creativity. If you would like to know more and have an informal chat, please feel free to DM me on Twitter @colinjfoster or email me email@example.com and I will arrange to give you a call.”