Social care has always been at the forefront of most local authorities, but recent events have highlighted the vital role they play in supporting vulnerable people.
Social Care Today recently spoke to Essex County Council’s executive director for adult social care, Nick Presmeg and executive director for children, families and education, Helen Lincoln to find out more about how the local authority values and supports its social care workers.
SCT: In your view, how vital have frontline social care workers been during the Covid-19 pandemic to Essex County Council?
Nick Presmeg: ‘Social care workers have been at the front of the county council’s role during the Covid-19 pandemic. The frontline social care workforce has been critical to the ongoing support and care for vulnerable people in Essex during Covid-19. Their role has been to ensure that people remain safe; that they can access support networks and services; and that services have continued for our most vulnerable.
‘Where services have had to close, such as day centres, the social care workers creativity and innovation was encouraged to support those people affected in a way that continued to offer them care and support but in a way that kept them and staff safe. This has included promoting and facilitating technology alternatives such as the Alcove carephone.
‘As ever, where safeguarding concerns meant a face to face response, then staff again stepped up to keep people safe and reduce risks to all those we provide services to.’
Helen Lincoln: ‘Whether it is taking children to the park, zoom baking and cooking sessions, Tiktok singing and dancing videos, or providing Boredom Boxes, full of activities, children and families have appreciated the creative approach taken, by children’s social care workers in Essex.
‘Very early on, we recognised that there was a balance between significant risk of harm to the child, against significant risk of harm to social care workers and families. So, before deciding whether to visit in person, or virtually, social care workers and managers risk assessed if the child had to be seen, and if so, how it could be done, as safely as possible. We always put the child first.
‘The technology has, naturally, stretched us: groupwork went online; more children in care took part in their statutory reviews; and participation at child protection conferences improved, with even very busy professionals, including GP’s and consultants attending. So, whilst our relationship- based practice model is predicated on face-to-face intervention, adapting quickly to the challenges of this pandemic, will have an impact on the way we deliver services, even when it is over.
Doing children’s social work from your own home, with your own children present, has been extremely challenging. So, for the wellbeing of staff and their professional development, we made the decision early on to keep buildings open, with all social care staff having access from 1 June, on a rota basis.
‘Responding to the frequency of changes in guidance has had its challenges; as have changes in family circumstances. Fewer young people have been able to exit the care system as quickly as usual, and families’ circumstances have been complicated, by the impact of the lockdown, and by reduced access to support, e.g. from adult mental health services. So, this has increased the volume of work social care staff have to do, to get the same good outcomes for children.
‘Nevertheless, it is without doubt, that our social care staff have gone the extra mile, to support children and their families, in these unprecedented times.’
SCT: What opportunities can you offer social care workers joining the local authority?
Nick Presmeg: ‘As a big organisation in a big county of 1.4m we offer variety. The sheer size and scale of Essex, with a population of over 1.4m people means the levels of diversity across the county, enable social care workers to work with different communities, within different geographical locations and levels of deprivation that bring complexities, challenge and rewarding opportunities to our teams.
‘We have invested in our workforce and created a positive environment for all our team’s social care workers, occupational therapists and support workers to make a difference and achieve change for our most vulnerable. We have access to the right tools, equipment and resources and the right supervision, training and learning opportunities they need to be strong practitioners.
‘We support our social care workers through our comprehensive learning and development offer, delivered by our award-winning Essex Social Care Academy.’
Helen Lincoln: ‘In Essex we have built our practice foundations on a clear theoretical framework and teams where we know our staff and communities well. We take a strategic and practical approach to support work in a systemic way which is at the heart of all we do.
‘In Essex, we are proud to be “Serious About Social Work “. We use this culture to establish connections and relationships, changing people’s lives for the better and speaking for those who don’t have a voice.
Our staff are encouraged to work creatively, try new things and find new ways to improve the lives of our community.
‘New social care workers who join become part of our Assessed and Supportive Year in Employment (ASYE programme) which couples a protected caseload with a grounding in key Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and practice initiatives to equip our staff for the road ahead.
‘Essex promotes a culture of professional development in the context of the child’s journey and our staff are encouraged to work in different parts of the service to widen their knowledge and expertise.’
SCT: What personal development opportunities are there for social care workers at the local authority?
Nick Presmeg: ‘We support our social care workers to develop and improve their skills, through our comprehensive learning and development offer, delivered by our award-winning Essex Social Care Academy.
‘In addition, our recently revised Social Care Competency Framework means we have available a clear performance structure, that enables individuals to set clear personal and work goals, with access to the right support and training and access to clear career opportunities for them to progress and develop.’
Helen Lincoln: ‘Our staff have always been our greatest asset. We aim to deliver the best social work practice in order to make a real and positive impact on the vulnerable people within our community who need our support.
‘The approach is underpinned by high quality first line management, high quality reflective supervision manageable caseloads and the resources to undertake high quality social work with children and families in Essex.
‘Our BASW accredited Essex Social Care Academy ensures that our workforce has the best resources and comprehensive CPD opportunities available, not only to allow staff to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, but also to develop as individuals. The “cutting edge CPD offer” includes an exceptional lecture and workshop program, full-service access to Research In Practice (RIP) and Community Care Inform (CCI) and opportunity to undertake master’s modules to name a few. We are proud to foster a working environment where CPD is prioritised and protected time for staff development is ingrained in our culture.
‘In Essex we continue to raise the bar with a commitment to relationship-based social work, direct work and social care workers being at the forefront of change, and a core ethos of working with people in a respectful and meaningful way to address the complexities in their lives.’
Are there any other initiatives in place that you would like to highlight?
Nick Presmeg: ‘Both prior to and throughout the Covid-19 crisis, Essex County Council Adult Services have continued to develop and embed strong relationships with an extremely complex NHS landscape. With three integrated care systems, five Clinical Commissioning Groups, five acute hospitals, five community health contracts and two mental health providers, the challenges are great, yet rewarding.
‘As a social worker, the chance to work collaboratively in an innovative way is encouraged and supported by the whole system; working together to the needs of the people of Essex. This could be through joint working in community teams, linking in in with other professions to enable smooth discharges from hospital or working closely with Primary Care to prevent admissions to hospital and responding with support to help some manage their crisis.’
Helen Lincoln: ‘We actively promote and support our staff to be the “best they can”. This is evidenced in the high numbers of staff we retain in the authority who maximise their professional development and a high number who go onto be promoted.
‘We place a high emphasis on work/life balance and recognise this as a key factor to support our staff to do their best work. Our sheer size has allowed us to go forward with a number of projects and initiatives which allows out staff opportunities to innovate in practice.’
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