Building a team around the social worker

More from less. It is a term that is almost synonymous with the 21st Century. Every day you pick up the newspaper or more likely your phone and you see headlines such as ‘Budget cuts ahead’ or ‘Funding reduced’. It is not a temporary occurrence. Learning to do more with less is something that we all need to come to terms with. Not just within the sphere of business but also within the personal. Families are required to do more with less, feed their children with less, clothe them with less. The list goes on.

Social workers and local authorities over the last few years have seen their budgets reduce. They have seen the number of requirements skyrocket and the only solution has been to look at processes and become more efficient. Technology can assist with this process and this is where OLM steps in. We work with more than 100 local authorities from across the UK and have worked with hundreds more in the past 26 years. Not satisfied with simply upgrading clients in terms of technology, we also look to complete the puzzle by analysing processes via our change management team, Partners for Change.

Building a team around the Social Worker – the problem

Different models of social work are constantly emerging, from Signs of Safety through to Reclaiming Social Work and Getting it Right For Every Child in Scotland. To improve outcomes and enable effective early intervention, prevention and safeguarding, agencies must collaborate as identified in these models. Brighton and Hove City Council are a local authority that looked at collaboration both internally and externally.

More than four years ago, Brighton, alongside many other local authorities applied for funding from the Department of Education but were unsuccessful. The £200 million Innovation fund supported many local authorities, projects and charities but Brighton failed to get funding. At the time Brighton was looking for the money to redesign their services in response to high numbers of children on child protection plans and in care. An Ofsted report rating them as ‘Requires improvement’ meant that something needed to change.

In addition to children on protection plans and in care, Brighton were suffering from low morale amongst Social Workers. Problems with retention had plagued them for years and there was significant use of agency staff. This was disruptive as children and their families were constantly required to tell their story to someone new. They were unable to build a rapport with their worker and in the long term, this is always disruptive. Add to this the difficulty in management supervision from such as disruptive model and you have a problem. The solution being to move towards a more relationship-based practice model of social work.

Building a team around the Social Worker – the solution

The ‘Team around the relationship’ model was created. This model is built upon supporting Social Workers to feel more secure in their position and to ensure that relationships with families is the main focus. By improving the environment internally you are able to ensure that the external environment responds in kind and has a similar benefit. This was the model that Brighton had dreamed of creating but missed out on the funding. They did it anyway.

The journey began by restructuring all Social Work teams into pods. These consisted of up to seven full-time equivalent social workers with a pod manager and business support manager. Supervision which was a sporadic consideration in the past now became embedded into the culture. The model was born out necessity to make a difference much the same as other models of care such as reclaiming social work.

Positive change management

The change in approach yielded fantastic results for Brighton and embedded positive change management in their culture. At the time of evaluation, there were 5.4% fewer families on children’s services’ caseloads and there has also been a 10% decrease in the number of children in care. A matched 10% reduction was also recorded within the number of child protection plans on file. When looking at staff there was previously a shortfall. One in five members of the Social Work team was agency and this is expected to be down to 0% at the end of 2017. Staff turnover has also reduced from 20.4% in 2014 to less than 15% in 2016. These are all positive changes and proof that effective change management can always make a difference.

IT needs to be flexible and built for collaborative working

We understand that there are different models of care and more will emerge over the coming years. IT will need to be flexible enough to manage new models of working. We have built Eclipse to support collaborative models of working, functionally rich and accessible everywhere.