John Gregg, director of children’s services at Coventry City Council and West Midlands children’s services workforce lead, tells Social Care Today why 14 councils and trusts across the West Midlands have joined forces to engage social workers across the country to work in the region and shape the future of care for children and families.
In the West Midlands we are dealing with some of the toughest challenges in social work with a significant number of children and families desperately in need of help and support. At the same time, we have some of the widest ranging issues to deal with as one of the country’s most diverse region’s – from Birmingham City to isolated rural communities in the hills of Herefordshire.
Like all areas we are also in need of many more talented and experienced social workers to fill the gaps in provision, which are hampering our ability to respond quickly and well to a range of crises.
As a region we firmly believe that collaboration is key and there are lots of great examples. These include running innovative training pilots and our work with West Midlands Social Work Teaching Partnership, the largest accredited social work teaching partnership in the UK, to support a continual professional development framework.
We have now taken this a step further and teamed up local authority improvement body West Midlands Employers (WME) to give social workers a voice in the future of the care they will be delivering. Putting social workers and their clients at the heart of things is essential if we are to be successful in making our practices better and our service sustainable.
#BeTheFuture – how you can get involved?
The campaign will involve a range of things from pulse surveys and virtual events to feedback sessions and specialist working groups. #BeTheFuture will not only capture the ideas of front-line staff to help shape what their job will look like in the future but also help steer innovation, change and ultimately improve quality.
We want to start a conversation with our existing social workers, social workers from outside our region and potential recruits about what we need to do to make our practice better and what they need for us to be able to do the best job possible. We don’t just want people to apply for a job, we want their ideas to shape what that job will look like in the future.
We genuinely believe that bringing together different sources of information and feedback will help develop a better overall understanding of what change is required. This is ultimately why we are trying to create ‘two-way’ involvement between social workers and leaders as equal partners in change and improvement.
Please help us by sharing your voice and taking five minutes to complete this short survey.
Our local council social work departments have been working hard for years to reduce the impact of austerity and to improve and reform practice in many of our organisations. Whilst we have made some major improvements over the years we recognise challenges still exist across the region and the pandemic has only exacerbated these.
Delivering help and support during lockdown at a time of increased demand and limited resource has been tough. This is the reality which social workers face every day. Whilst we know social workers across the UK are doing everything they can to make sure support is provided to children and families who we know need it the risk of burnout is very real.
There is a growing concern that children who before Covid-19 were already vulnerable could now be facing further hardship. The Covid-19 outbreak acted as a catalyst for a considerable rise in child maltreatment by exacerbating some of the contributing factors, such as household poverty, overcrowded housing, social isolation, domestic violence, and parental substance abuse.
We needed to take action pre-pandemic but Covid-19 has made the problem worse, with social workers having to adapt how they work and more families than ever struggling to cope. This could leave us facing immense challenges for years to come and longer-term implications particularly for the most vulnerable children
Hannah Roberts, social worker at Shropshire Council, talks about those families who would not normally be classed as ‘at risk’. She says: ‘Whilst moving to virtual visits has had benefits in terms of freeing up time we would otherwise be using to travel this new way of working also creates many challenges. It’s more difficult to carry out a proper risk assessment because you don’t have the full picture and many of the families I work with have really struggled with the rules that come with lockdown because they can’t see one another like they perhaps once could.’
Hannah says it will be interesting to see what happens as lockdown eases.
‘We know parents are feeling under immense pressure, trying to home school and continuing work. How this has really impacted children is yet to be seen but I think it is likely that we will see a change, with some children who we’d never have seen before coming into our service.
‘Many children whose parents were working before had wrap around care. They are now at home 24/7 with working parents – it’s a pressure cooker and we need to be prepared to help families and children who need support.’
It is clear that as lockdown conditions continue to be eased, schools reopen and services start to operate more normally, we will all need to consider how best to deal with the full extent the pandemic is having on the lives of the children and the families we are here to support. We believe social workers, together with the families and children we work with, are the very best people to help identify how we can instigate positive change.
By engaging with those on the frontline we hope to understand what these are and how we can support, as well as share best practice to improve social care across regions. You can find out more here: https://wmchildrenssocialwork.org.uk/
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