In 2021, Jayne came to a crossroads in her social work career. Having always worked in permanent roles during an almost two-decade career, she decided to take an agency post.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to remain in social work,” she says. “I felt so exhausted by the demands of the role and the cultures I was working .”
Jayne has always worked in child protection and court work, rising to team manager and service manager roles.
“I love the work,” she adds. “But it’s taxing. It’s emotionally, psychologically difficult.”
In October 2022, she took a post as an agency team manager at a locality team at South Gloucestershire Council. In little time, the feelings that had led to her moving into agency work changed – so much so that she recently decided to go permanent at the authority.
“I wanted a permanent role within an organisation I believed in that could support me with my own needs as a professional but also had an ethos that aligned with the beliefs I hold. I love it here – it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
The key ingredient for Jayne is the workplace culture at South Gloucestershire.
‘A real sense of family’
“There’s a real sense of family. Everybody is doing this very difficult work together and they support each other and they understand the pressures. That doesn’t mean that standards slip. You have people around you that make time for you, who listen to you and work hard to find solutions to any difficulties that arise.”
She is not alone.
A Community Care survey of 176 South Gloucestershire children’s services social workers and team managers last year found that 84% rated it as a friendly and helpful place to work, with just 4% disagreeing.
Social worker Kelsey, who joined South Gloucestershire in 2020, also refers to the service as a “family”.
“I know when I started there was so much support, a lot of emotional support especially if you are struggling – it is like one big family.
“I’ve got a really good team around me, a really good manager and there is no desire, no reason to move anywhere else.”
“We have this connection with each other,” says senior social worker Sacha. “Everyone’s really supportive. We have team nights out and that’s equally as important, just to talk about stuff that’s completely unrelated to social work.”
Alongside the quality of peer support and relationships, Jayne also points to quality of management as a critical part of South Gloucestershire’s positive culture.
Trust in management
“You have a lot of social workers who have worked in the authority for a long time and progressed into senior management,” she adds. “They really know the families we work with, they really know the geography of the area and they understand the needs of the community. You trust them because of the knowledge they have.”
Senior social worker Natalie is another who has converted from agency to permanent recently because of the culture at the authority.
For her, the support she received from managers during a very difficult time last year was fundamental to her decision.
Her manager helped identify how she could be supported, both emotionally as well as practically.
“There was never a frustration with me,” she says.
She had been through a similar experience in a previous authority and says she was not supported at all or given time off.
Support ‘helped me stay in social work’
“The amount of support I’ve had over the past 12 months has made such a difference to my life,” she says. “When you are going through difficulties you have a much greater understanding of how much the local authority values you.”
Nicole, now a consultant social worker leading the council’s unit of students from the fast-track Frontline programme, also felt that support after experiencing a very difficult and high-profile case in 2021.
“My manager saw that I needed some extra support during that time,” she says. “My managers and the director funded me to do therapy with a private therapist.
She then had a supported return to work, during which her emotional wellbeing was always considered, she says.
Advanced social worker Emily also praises the quality of management support throughout her career.
Emily came to South Gloucestershire as a social work assistant, and the council then supported her to qualify as a social worker through Open University in 2020. After completing her assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), Emily has progressed to become an advanced social worker in a locality team.
As well as the support she has received from South Gloucestershire to enable such progress, Emily also praises the peer support she receives day to day from her locality team.
“We try to meet weekly and have lunch together,” she says. We know each other’s cases so we can support each other. If a social worker has to deal with an emergency, other members of the team will cover their visits.”
Focus on children and families
While social workers praise the support they receive, from each other and their managers, they are equally clear that the focus of the authority is always on the quality of support South Gloucestershire’s children and families receive.
“Even during the short time I’ve been there I’ve seen a real drive for improvement,” says Jayne. “At the heart of everything we do and talk about are the children and families.”
“This morning, we had a child who needed to be placed and there were some complex issues identified. Straight away, people were saying, ‘I can do this’. We’re talking about a child being placed with strangers – a child who will be feeling worried – and the team are saying we need to make this as smooth as possible for that child’.”
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