“We strive to be better – not just for ourselves, but for our children”

Social work with children and families in Manchester is on the rise. In May, Ofsted rated the City Council’s children’s services as ‘good’ after seeing significant improvements since the last inspection in 2017 in many areas of practice.

Two months later, the authority won council of the year at the prestigious LGC awards, with judges saying it had “transformed services with results that buck the national trend” and praising how it took lived experience into account in the design of services.

In their report, Ofsted inspectors said care workers were “positive about working in Manchester” and appreciated the support they received from managers. Those who had served the authority since the 2017 inspection – when it was found to need improvement – ​​confidently told inspectors they could see changes in practices and culture since then were improving. children’s lives.

A key change highlighted by Ofsted has been a reduction in the number of cases – which have now fallen to 15-18 on average among case practitioners.

This was made possible by increasing the number of local teams across the city and reducing their size, from eight to six practitioners – usually comprising two advanced practitioners, two social workers and two newly qualified staff members.

Naomi, who worked in local teams after qualifying in 2017, until a recent promotion, has seen the difference it has made.

“The drop in the number of cases is a boon”

Naomi (credit: Mark Waugh)

“Managers now have more time for social workers and more space for the families the team works with,” she says.

“Our workloads have decreased significantly over the past two years. It’s a boon because it gives you a lot more time to work with the kids, which leads to better results.

It’s not about doing less work, it’s about doing better work, Naomi says, including a more partnership-based approach with families.

“When I first qualified, nobody worked less hard, but the work we did was the base. In the past, we would have written a working agreement to say, ‘this is what we expect from you”. Now we can ask, ‘what do you expect of yourselves?’.

“If you have time to sit down and work with families, everyone benefits. Most families know what needs to change, and if you’re not rushing, they can tell you.

The value of a stable workforce

In addition to restructuring, the reduced caseload reflects a more stable workforce, says Debbie, manager of social work consultants, whose role is to support the development of the practice.

This is evident in Department for Education figures, which show the vacancy rate for full-time equivalent care workers fell from 25.8% to 7.5%, and the rate for agency workers fell from 14.7 % to 3.1%, from 2017 to 2021.

Debbie also points to the stability of Manchester’s management team, led by Paul Marshall, director of children’s services since 2016.

“It gives people confidence when you have a stable leadership team,” she says. “They are all very different but all very experienced managers.”

The managerial support identified by Ofsted is evident throughout the service.

“Without the support of my manager, I would not have succeeded”

Lucy, an advanced practitioner and educator in practice, who works in a local team, remembers how her manager played a vital role in giving her the confidence to testify in court in a complex case she was dealing with.

“The children were illegally removed from the country because the family was afraid the council would seek care orders,” she says. “In this case, the children were placed under guardianship. Without my manager’s support, I don’t think I would have testified.

She says her manager is “always available for professional advice and personal guidance” but, in his absence, she can always rely on the “accessible” area and department managers.

Debbie says the support of Manchester’s management team is clear from their investment in the learning and welfare of social workers.

“Learning culture”

Ofsted found that leaders had “succeeded in embedding a culture of learning across the workforce”.

It starts from when the Newly Qualified Social Worker (NQSW) joins the Board Assessed and Supported Year of Employment (ASYE).

Service and Assessment Team social workers Kyle and Nadeen both praise the quality of the ASYE program, which begins with a four-week summer school of full-time training before NQSWs begin work in their teams.

Nadeen, social worker in Manchester

Nadeen (credit: Mark Waugh)

“What they provide is good,” says Nadeen. “They’re really good at getting feedback from those who have gone through the training so that it reflects what we want. There’s something here for everyone. I’ve taken something from all the training I’ve had. followed.

In addition to formal training and supervision, practitioners also benefit from strong peer support within their teams and from the work of Debbie and her fellow consultants across the city.

Says Kyle, “If we’re really struggling with a job, you can go to the consultant and he’ll give us some really creative, critical supervision around the families.”

He says he’s found it particularly helpful when it comes to domestic violence.

“It shows that Manchester take care of our staff”

Debbie says Manchester have developed a “strong offer” when it comes to wellbeing, listening to staff and not being afraid to try new things.

“We had massages in April, in May I did mindfulness in all offices, we also had therapy dogs in May, there’s yoga in July,” she says. “I also set up creative writing workshops.

Manchester is also considering the introduction of Schwartz Rounds, which involve the use of collaborative focus groups to allow practitioners to share the emotional aspects of their roles, in order to reduce psychological distress.

“Schwartz Rounds has been proven to help with psychological distress and ensuring it’s a key offering letting people know Manchester are looking after our staff,” adds Debbie.

“You can progress quickly”

Investing in practitioner support, learning, and well-being also pays off in how quickly you can advance your career in the city.

Graduating in 2017 – after completing a year of authority training through the Frontline program – Naomi became an advanced practitioner in three years.

She attributes this to two factors: the fast pace of work and management support.

“In Manchester, the progression is quite fast compared to other authorities. I was able to take this step and I was supported to do so by my managers,” she says.

Naomi has more recently progressed again to the role of Case Progression Manager in Central Manchester. The position has always focused on following families through the pre-procedure process, but has expanded to examine the quality of social work interventions and the experience of families across the system.

Naomi says the expansion of the role is indicative of Manchester not resting on their laurels.

“Manchester are asking questions about what we are doing and how we can do better,” she said. “Nobody thinks ‘it’s okay, we have our good now’. We all agree that we can go much further and the people who will benefit from it are the children, that’s why we are doing the work.

Recognize diversity

Practitioners are also positive about the experience of working in a city as diverse as Manchester, where a third of the population was non-white at the time of the 2011 census, more than double the national average.

“I’ve worked with a lot of great young people from a variety of backgrounds, which is far more common in central Manchester than in other local communities,” says Naomi. “No two family circumstances are the same, so there’s a lot of variety but plenty of reason to be optimistic. What I have discovered is that families are incredibly resilient and most often it is a privilege to work with them.

However, it also recognizes the need to ensure that its workforce – particularly at the executive and management level – is representative of these communities.

Lucy says she has just completed a leadership program for women from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds, and “the focus is on providing opportunity.”

The package of support and opportunities that practitioners receive means they want to stay in Manchester.

Naomi says: “I love Manchester, I love the challenges it poses, I love the culture we have – that we strive to be better, not just for ourselves, but for our children. I have seen these changes and it is really positive.

If you are interested in a position with Manchester City Council, see the latest job vacancies here.

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