“We know that our workforce is our greatest asset”

“I have never worked in a place where the needs or opinions of the staff have been so important. It helps me make my job a lot easier, ”says Rebecca Sutton, senior social worker for children’s services at Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council and responsible for workforce services and quality assurance.

Caring senior management

Rebecca describes the support from senior leaders as “incredible”.

Sandie Hayes

“I think Sandie Hayes, Practice Director, and Colette Dutton, Director of Children’s Services, have a lot to do with it. They are always open to hearing my suggestions from social workers, ”she says.

But the participation goes far beyond the simple immediate team, explains Rebecca. “We also work closely with the council. So when I go to leadership meetings to share what the staff are saying, not only are the practice director and director there, but also the CEO, board leaders, and other management colleagues. They also want to hear from the staff.

The listening authority

This culture of encouraging staff feedback and implementing these recommendations is part of Wigan’s “You Said, We Did” approach to improving conditions for the workforce. The approach has enabled Wigan to make positive changes every day for social workers and improve the tools they need to provide good social work.

The list of actions includes reducing the amount of paperwork for panels and providing smart phones to social workers during the pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, we had cell phones, but they weren’t smart phones,” says Shelby, a newly trained social worker. “Because visiting families became more difficult during the lockdown, we needed to be able to virtually connect with families. Within weeks, social workers across the branch received smartphones, making it easier and more efficient to talk to our families.

I like that we are recognized for the good work we do.

Clear communication

Access to specialized training has always been voluntary, says Jill, a senior social worker.

“We have a legal time when lawyers come to talk to us about subjects related to our profession. Even if the information is not specific to your role, it is possible to gain valuable learning, connect with social workers, and learn from each other.

There are regular learning events called ‘quality learning sessions’, where information is shared, and practitioners have a valuable opportunity to contribute confidentially, knowing that what is shared is then discussed with executives. superiors. “

Wigan also commissioned training to raise awareness of county boundaries, missing children and age assessment training. “This training has helped to improve our knowledge of how to approach complex safeguarding,” says Jill.

Staff can even directly contribute to strategic planning as Rebecca chairs a Council of Workforce Practitioners. Staff across management are able to read specific advice minutes and reports and provide constructive criticism and ideas to senior leaders in order to influence strategic implementation.

Development resource

Rebecca Sutton

At the request of social workers, Wigan created a resource site called Workforce Essentials on SharePoint (WE S). The platform contains examples of good practice, as well as information, advice and examples regarding all aspects of social work.

“If we find a good example through an audit, which can give staff a good resource to improve in a particular area of ​​their work, we anonymize it and put it on the WES,” says Rebecca.

“So if a social worker was dealing with a private placement case, for example, and had never done one before, they could access a model through the WES and that saves time,” says Shelby. .

Social work forums

It was thanks to the creation of the Wigan Social Work Forum, shortly before the start of the pandemic, that social workers were able to communicate their views to management more regularly. The journeys include a monthly staff briefing, monthly newsletters and semi-annual social work forums.

“At our social work forum in September, we looked at all of the recommendations that social workers gave us 12 months ago, looked at the progress we had made and, after determining that we had addressed all of them, their asked to identify new priorities. , says Rebecca.

Colette Dutton

“Colette came during the second half of this session to hear what the staff wanted us to prioritize. For me, this was essential because it meant that it was not only me reporting social worker feedback to upper management, but upper management hearing directly from social workers on what they wanted.

Among the suggestions was giving social workers a ‘lockout day’ to allow them to complete their CPD without feeling pressured to do so in addition to their daily chores. Wigan has since adopted the recommendation.

The future

Wigan has no illusions that more is needed to improve services for children. During the last Ofsted inspection of Wigan in October 2020, it was necessary to reduce the number of cases and complete the implementation of the practice model chosen by the council.

But when it comes to improving working conditions, Rebecca believes they are on the right track. According to Rebecca, the board has seen 30% more new entrants join and 57% fewer departures between January and September 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. The board has expanded its teams and created new roles to meet the demands of requests. Roles include a level 10 role for experienced social workers who do not want to go into management.

“We want the staff to want to stay and progress in Wigan,” says Rebecca. “The Grade 10 role allows experienced social workers to continue working with children and families, but also to play a mentoring role with less experienced staff members. Their expertise is recognized in their remuneration.

Jill has been with Wigan for over 20 years

“This senior social worker position allows social workers to progress, without moving into a management position. This is not an advanced practitioner position and therefore there are no supervisory responsibilities. However, the position recognizes the expertise of experienced social workers who will take on a workload while sharing their skills and knowledge with their less experienced colleagues.

For Jill, the position of senior social worker matches her expectations for career progression. “I’ve been a social worker for almost 20 years, but I had no desire to progress to a managerial position, which I communicated at the Wigan Workforce Group meeting.

“Wigan listened and reported this information to senior management and it was from there that I think the role of a senior social worker was established. This role allows me to manage more complex cases and allows me to work with children and families, which I enjoy, while supporting less experienced colleagues.

What does good look like

Ensuring that social workers have access to ongoing support is what Rebecca is keen to cultivate.

“I’ve been a frontline social worker so I know what the challenges are and I know what staff need to do good social work,” says Rebecca who officially started as a Senior Social Worker in June 2020. “ It is the permission to work creatively. It’s about promoting a culture of learning, not a culture of blame, and it’s about celebrating things that go well.

“Wigan strengthens the environment in which staff work so that they can accurately assess the needs of children and families in an asset-based manner. We work with them to develop long-term plans that are realistic and sustainable. We also want them to tap into their community resources so that the children can stay at home, if it is safe to do so, without our involvement. “

“My manager and my supervisor always recognize the good work I do. It is this same appreciation culture that celebrates the positive aspects we impart to our social workers, so that staff feel valued. We know our workforce is our greatest asset.

For Emma, ​​a newly graduated social worker, the culture of appreciation in Wigan and the space to ask for help without feeling like you’re underachieving is what she loves about her job there. -low.

“My line manager helps me create mini action plans that allow me to prioritize what needs to be done. I have built these positive relationships here and really enjoy my job. For me, the most important thing is the people I work with – they are like family. I love that we are recognized for the good work we do and that it is shared within the team and put in the team newsletter. These little things mean a lot and make a big difference.

Read more about a career at Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council here and read more about authority here.