Social workers hailed in New Year Honours list

Champions of asylum-seeking young people and anti-racist supervision, respectively, recognised alongside chief social worker for children and families Isabelle Trowler

A group of colleagues clapping their hands
Photo: Felix/ Stock

Champions of asylum-seeking children and anti-racist practice, respectively, were among social workers recognised in the New Year Honours.

Children’s practitioner Kirstie Baughan and adult safeguarding lead Shabnam Ahmed were garlanded in the annual list, alongside chief social worker for children and families Isabelle Trowler.

Within the wider sector, there was also recognition for the former chief executive of social work charity Frontline, Josh MacAlister, who recently led a government-commissioned review of children’s social care.

From social worker of the year gong to British Empire Medal

Baughan, who was crowned overall winner at the 2022 Social Worker of the Year Awards, was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to social work.

The recognition for the Central Bedfordshire Council practitioner reflects her work supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and refugees, not just in her social work career but as a volunteer for the charity Care4Calais.

Social worker Kirstie Baughan

Social worker Kirstie Baughan

She is currently studying for a PhD on the integration experiences of unaccompanied children leaving care, which she intends to inform practice guidance for fellow practitioners.

‘A huge shock’

The council said that, alongside her work with unaccompanied asylum seekers, Baughan has also volunteered locally to support older people, children in care and domestic abuse survivors.

Following her honour, she said: “It was a huge shock, especially as I’ve been lucky enough to know so many social workers who are deserving of this award and whose work deserves to be celebrated.

“So I want to say a massive thank you to my social work colleagues, and the families that I have been lucky enough to support here at Central Bedfordshire Council and in my voluntary roles, as they have all taught me so much.”

The council’s executive member for families, education and children, Hayley Whitaker, said: “We’re all extremely proud of Kirstie, and this well-deserved recognition is a testament to her hard work, and her impact on Central Bedfordshire residents.”

Also recognised in the honours list was Camden council’s lead for adult safeguarding, Shabnam Ahmed, who was awarded an MBE for services to social care.

Anti-racist supervision champion honoured

A registered social worker who has worked for the London borough for 25 years – the last six spent in management roles – she also delivers training through her company and YouTube channel.

This has a particular focus on anti-racist practice and supervision. Ahmed has developed a framework for antiracist supervision with the British Association of Social Workers’ Black and Ethnic Minority Professionals’ Symposium (BPS), of which she is a member.

Like Baughan, she is studying for a doctorate, which is focused on South Asian women’s experience of supervision in adult social work.

Shabnam Ahmed, lead practitioner for adult safeguarding, Camden council

Shabnam Ahmed, lead practitioner for adult safeguarding, Camden council

On receiving an MBE, Ahmed said: “I have many dreams and aspirations, receiving an MBE was not one of them. Not even in my wildest dreams would I have imagined this.

“I am though very grateful, and I accept the award for all my committed colleagues who work passionately to drive positive change and connect with communities.”

Recognition for Trowler

Also on this year’s list was England’s chief social worker for children and families, Isabelle Trowler, who was awarded a CBE for services to children’s social care.

Image of Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children and families

Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children and families

During her decade in the post, Trowler has helped develop a string of Department for Education children’s social care policies, focused on raising the quality of social work and reforming practice systems.

These include knowledge and skills statements for practitioners, supervisors and leaders, the innovation programme, which funded projects testing new ways of working, and the establishment of a what works centre children’s social care (now Foundations).

She also led the development of the national assessment and accreditation system (NAAS) to provide a post-registration kitemark for  children’s practitioners and supervisors, though this was scrapped in 2022 due to the challenges and costs of delivery.

Her counterpart, Lyn Romeo, the chief social worker for adults, is stepping down from her post at the end of this month.

OBE for care review lead MacAlister 

But Trowler is continuing into a second decade as chief social worker, helping implement the DfE’s current children’s social care reform agenda, the architect of which, Josh MacAlister, also received an honour in the New Year list.

A teacher by background, MacAlister established the fast-track Frontline programme in 2013, to attract graduates with strong academic records to train to become child protection social workers, gaining government backing to fund the programme.

Care review lead Josh MacAlister

Josh MacAlister

Though Frontline faced criticism, including for perceived elitism in student recruitment and the superior financial support received by its trainees, it expanded significantly under MacAlister’s watch to train 450 people a year, up from 100 initially.

In 2021, he left the organisation on being appointed to lead the DfE-commissioned Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, which reported in 2022.

The DfE is now taking forward many of MacAlister’s key proposals including restrictions on the use of agency staff, the development of specialist child protection lead practitioners and the establishment of a five-year early career framework (ECF) for social workers post-qualification.

MacAlister is now executive chair of Foundations, the sector’s what works centre, whose chief executive, Jo Casebourne, said of his OBE: “This prestigious honour is a resounding acknowledgement of his unwavering dedication to bringing about positive change for the most vulnerable children and families.

“We look forward to witnessing the continued positive impact of his endeavours and the inspiration he provides to us all.”

Honours for directors past and present

Norfolk council’s director of children’s services, Sara Tough, who guided the authority from a requires improvement rating from Ofsted in 2017 to good in 2022, was awarded an OBE for services to education and children’s social care.

Her former adults’ services counterpart at the county council, James Bullion, a previous president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, received a CBE for services to social care.

He is now chief inspector of adult social care and integrated care at the Care Quality Commission, in which capacity he is overseeing the rollout of the new system of performance assessments of English councils.

‘Humbling’ award

“It was really humbling to be included in the New Year Honours list for services to social care,” Bullion said. “Whilst the honours focus on one person, of course it is the really the team that make the difference, and I really want to acknowledge the collective work of others that underpins all that I do.”

His CQC colleague, Alison Murray, was awarded an MBE. The regulator’s deputy director of adult social care said she was “honoured”, adding: “I’ve been extremely privileged to work with wonderful colleagues who are absolutely committed to making sure that people receive the best possible care.

“I feel this honour is something that reflects on each and every one of them and welcome the opportunity to raise the profile of adult social care.”

Other social workers honoured

Barnsley’s former DCS, Melanie John-Ross, who is now retired, picked up an MBE, with the same award going to fellow registered social worker Christine Futter, who stepped down last year as chief operating officer at Norfolk & Suffolk Care Support.

There was also an MBE for Helen Leadbitter, a social worker by background, for services to young carers. Leadbitter, who is is director of the Young Carers Initiative and was previously a manager at charity the Children’s Society, said she was “humbled and proud”.

“It is a privilege to have met so many young carers over so many years and that they have shared their stories to support and advocate on behalf other young carers. They, the young carers, are the experts and we need to continue to listen to them.”

‘Believe in yourself’

An MBE was also awarded to social care consultant, and expert by experience, Jak Savage. Her recent work includes helping develop guidance for councils, from chief social worker Lyn Romeo and the Adult Principal Social Worker Network, on carrying out proportionate assessments under the Care Act.

Commenting on her honour on LinkedIn, Savage said: “My message to all children and young people coming out of the care system, as I did all those years ago, or adults who suddenly find themselves ill with disability, like I experienced eight years ago, is to believe in yourself and never let what you have lived through solely define you. No matter who is not by your side, just count those that are as those that matter.”

Honours also went to:

  • Jacqueline Hendra, a social care assessor at Devon council, who received a British Empire Medal for services to people with disabilities.
  • Colin Angel, former policy, practice and innovation director at the Homecare Association (MBE).
  • Kathy Roberts, chief executive, Association of Mental Health Providers (MBE).
  • Daniel Croft, chief executive of independent fostering agency Children Always First Ltd and also of social care provider Key Assets Europe (MBE).
  • Pamela and Peter Frickleton (MBE), foster carers with Plymouth council (MBEs).
  • Lydia Obat, a foster carer from Manchester and founder of Gapolunya Foundation, a charity that supports children in her native Nigeria (MBE).
  • June Nicol-Dundas, a foster care with the IFA Fostering London (MBE).

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6 Responses to Social workers hailed in New Year Honours list

  1. Tahin January 5, 2024 at 3:09 pm #

    The irony of so many avowed advocates of anti-racist anti-oppressive practice accepting Empire medals while we are grieving the death of Benjamin Zephaniah isn’t lost on most of us. We always remember and rarely forget.

  2. Shirley January 5, 2024 at 3:37 pm #

    Marvellous that social workers are honoured and such a pleasure to read, but do you only name registered social workers on the SWE register as there are many unsung heroes who have left the register for different reasons who are not mentioned.

  3. Adam Shepherd January 5, 2024 at 4:30 pm #

    I am really struggling to see what actual achievements or meaningful contributions Isabelle Trowler has made to Children Services. It would be more meaningful giving this CBE to someone actually making a difference.

    • Not My Real Name January 8, 2024 at 11:23 am #

      And if it’s simply for doing the job why did Lyn Romeo not get one.

  4. Sophia January 6, 2024 at 3:45 pm #

    I would wager that there is at least one Republican here who is suddenly happy to accept the chance to kneel before to their Monarch to be ‘honoured’ with their Empire medal. I write as a social worker whose mam refused an OBE so any “bitter with envy” barbs are wasted.

  5. Abdul January 8, 2024 at 9:37 am #

    From Ubuntu and BLM to embracing Empire medals seems opportunism without conviction at best or the hypocrisy of being comfortable embedded in the bosom of the State social workers never tire of telling us is repressive, racist, imbued with privilege. I have watched the ease with which the ‘proffesion’ flip flops rather than follow through with it’s supposed anti-oppressive principles throughout my 38 years as a care worker and qualified social worker. Those somersaults used to mildly amuse me but no longer. I’m proud to say that there are still social workers for whom sticking by their values, however it impacts on their wellbeing and careers, is more honourable than grabbing the gongs and baubles. We do indeed never forget and some of us will not hesitate to remind the ‘honoured’ of their love of Empire next time they assault us with platitudes on racism, decolonisation and commitment to equality and justice. It feels grand knowing that there are many more us than these ‘colleagues’.