Why I’ve spent my 15-year social work career in one council
A sponsored feature from Staffordshire County Council
In her 15-year social work career, Sarah Redmond’s never been short on new experiences.
She’s worked across child protection, done a secondment in Youth Offending Institutions (YOI), been a senior practitioner and completed Approved Mental Health Practitioner (AMHP) training. She’s also risen through the ranks to become a coordinator of an emergency duty service.
What makes this long and varied career unique, though, is that all of it has happened in Staffordshire, the only social work employer she has ever had and, with how she tells it, the only one she has ever needed.
“I’ve stayed in Staffordshire because of the opportunities I’ve had,” she explains.
Crucially, Sarah says she has benefitted from an ongoing list of opportunities, a well-established career development plan, a supportive management culture and flexibility about balancing her work and home life.
Throughout her 15-years’ service in Staffordshire, Sarah has been backed by “effective, good quality supervision”, which she says was “crucial” for her when she first qualified.
“The experiences you have in your first year form the basis of your social work career; it certainly has mine.”
Those early experiences informed her entire career, and she says it has remained consistently high quality throughout.
“It is readily available, has a clear structure, and each session gives you opportunities to look at what is available in terms of training and opportunities where we can provide training to others,” Sarah explains.
It was through supporting others – mentoring students and practice educator training – that Sarah’s career developed, as opposed to a desire to follow a senior management pathway.
“Staffordshire promotes both sides. If management is the way in which you choose to take your career then those opportunities are available, equally if that’s not the way you want to take your career, if you choose to focus in other areas such as development of staff, even professional development, then that’s available too.”
A changing organisation
During her time in Staffordshire, services across the country have faced rising demand and new challenges that weren’t a concern – or even considered to exist – 15 years ago.
The council hasn’t been alone in needing to find ways to respond to these challenges – such as county lines, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and gangs.
Sarah explains that despite new challenges, the approach at the council is underpinned by a principle of driving for positive outcomes for all service users.
“We work in collaboration with service users and agencies to look at alternative options for children and their families outside of statutory intervention, but equally once they do reach that level, we try to create positive outcomes for children within their families, even within a context of rising demand.”
It is during a period of increasing demand that Sarah has risen to the team coordinator role of the team she joined eight years ago after starting a family and seeking a more flexible working arrangement.
What Sarah has seen over this period – and continues to see – is a service which responds quickly and modernises to the challenges it faces by giving its staff and service users the support they need.
A through care team to work with and support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children has been set up. New policies and procedures have been drawn up to support practitioners to respond to new challenges posed by county lines, gangs and exploitation, and these are constantly evolving as the service learns more about these needs.
“We have been very good at recognising the changing needs of the children we’re working with: county lines, gang membership, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, trafficked children, child sexual exploitation. These issues are much more prevalent than they were 15-years-ago, and we’ve evolved our services to reflect this. ”
Responding to the extra pressures placed on practitioners has also been a key part of the council’s strategy. It recently invested £1 million to increase the capacity of its social work teams to reduce caseloads and enable more direct work with families.
Looking back, it is the organisation’s responsiveness to the community but also her needs as a professional that has kept Sarah in Staffordshire for the past 15 years, and it is a mutual feeling across the rest of the workforce, where turnover figures are lower than many authorities.
“I was able to fit work around my career development but equally my family responsibilities. Principally, that’s why I stayed.”
Managing stress: Staffordshire has a full stress management guide and support from its internal Health & Safety team. Managers are encouraged to recognise an issue with staff as early as possible. It has brokered easy access to bespoke counselling support and guidance either by self or management referral.
Flexible working: Staffordshire promotes flexible working practices and aims to respond to staff’s individual needs and will offer to support balanced on the needs of the business
How are desks managed: The county council promotes agile working due to its large geographical area. It provides spaces in many of its public areas such as libraries and family centers to touch down and access systems. It has recently invested in mobile technology for all social workers which includes tablet devices and smart phones
Parking: Parking charges on visits can be claimed back through expenses.
Holiday: This The number of holiday days employees receive starts at 24 and rises to 33 depending on salary scale and years of service.
Benefits: Council benefits include, car leasing/loans, childcare voucher scheme, discounted gym membership, eye care discount and many more, all detailed on the intern staff benefits intranet page
Caseloads: Caseloads are managed closely through a supportive, reflective supervision process with team managers, enhanced with group and peer supervision in all teams. Heads of service offer additional guidance and support when needed and are accountable for ensuring that all team can manage their caseloads safely and effectively.