Briefing - social work

What Ofsted says:

“There are clear expectations regarding the highest standards that North Yorkshire authority aims to achieve and does achieve.  This aspiration is clearly articulated and understood by all in the organisation and its partners.  A stable workforce has enabled a culture to be developed in which social workers and managers feel confident and safe to manage risk appropriately… (the) authority monitors workloads and has invested in the recruitment of social workers... At the heart of the North Yorkshire approach is a belief that stable relationships with workers who know their children and families extremely well is the key to creating and sustaining positive change.”

Read more below.

North Yorkshire’s children’s social care services have received national acclaim over the last few years for highly effective and innovative practice.

Among others, the Chief Social Worker for England, Isabelle Trowler, has praised the county’s children’s services for its commitment and understanding of the county’s challenges and its large rural hinterland:

“North Yorkshire realises its ambitions for improving the lives of children and young people and not many can do this.  They are helping families stay together and they are not resting on their laurels.  They want to do more and be the best that they can be; that’s why they are one of the nation’s Partners in Practice.”

Highly targeted, consistent and effective support means that the number of North Yorkshire looked-after children has fallen from 481 in 2012 to 418 in 2018.

This good practice has been achieved through a whole service transformation:

  • The appointment of managers who understand that transparent and supportive leadership along with managing staff performance and financial skills, are key to delivering a successful and innovative service;
     
  • A workforce development strategy has been created to invest in current staff and to attract new staff with significant investment in training, support for staff on their personal and professional development and partnerships with universities, giving staff creative ways to qualify such as modular learning and salary sacrifice;
     
  • A learning and development culture which enables staff to move through posts in the service as their skills develop.  Newly qualified staff get regular support and guidance which helps to retain them;
     
  • Social workers have dedicated case support workers to help with administration and general support tasks so that social workers can focus on spending more time with families and young people in need;
     
  • Six years ago North Yorkshire’s social care service relied on agency staff for over one quarter of social care workers and had a high level of absence and turnover.  Unlike the majority of authorities, the Council now has had no agency workers for over three years - we exceptionally recently had 4 agency workers on some short-term 12 week assignments but these have now come to an end;
     
  • The county council’s vacancy rate is half the national average – 7 per cent rather than 14 per cent; the turnover of social workers is 4 per cent compared to a national average of 17 per cent and sickness rate is 25 per cent below the national average;
  • Our social workers have manageable caseloads;
     
  • North Yorkshire has an experienced workforce with over 50 per cent of social workers in the county having been qualified for two or more years;
     
  • The number of social workers has increased substantially.  Funding for the expansion has come from savings made in general “back office” and management posts. The County Council continues to increase the number of social workers to ensure increased demand in some areas is addressed and high quality of practice for families is maintained.
     
  • Ninety-seven per cent of the council’s social workers would recommend North Yorkshire as a good place to be a social worker.
     
  • Senior managers monitor the number of referrals every month, the number of cases that proceed to a strategy meeting, the number of child protection conferences that have been held and the number of plans in place as well as all areas of performance and practice. Performance management is taken very seriously.
     
  • North Yorkshire is very good at establishing local fostering places – of those children placed in foster care, only 3% of our children are in independent fostering placements outside the county – means social workers are not spending hundreds of hours travelling. We have recruited more than 75 unrelated fostering households in the last three years because we offer excellent support and training.
     
  • Signs of Safety – a strength-based approach to assessment and planning has been used consistently across North Yorkshire’s social work teams since 2012. The common language used through SOS together with the associated tools has seen a universally consistent approach to interventions offered to families. Since the introduction of SOS in North Yorkshire, social workers are better skilled to identify danger and risk. Families are able to understand clearer the danger/risk even if they don’t agree.

Sarah has worked for North Yorkshire County Council for the past 11 years, starting out as a family support worker in children’s safeguarding. She went on to take a social work degree, with the county council’s support and qualified in 2014.  She now covers the Skipton area as a social worker in the children’s safeguarding team.

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She said: “I joined a very stable team with a strong supportive and trusting culture.  Children’s safeguarding can be a difficult job, but we all look after each other. If we’re not supported then we’re no good to anybody else. Everyone here is proud to work for North Yorkshire, it’s a good authority and we all want to do a good job.  There is strong support from the management team, managers are very visible and approachable, we have healthy debate and there are no reprisals. I feel empowered, trusted and believed in as a worker.  Here our caseloads feel manageable, our managers keep an eye on them and are aware of what we all carrying at different times and make adjustments where needed.

“We are encouraged to undertake professional development and new ways of working– this year I am undertaking the systemic social work practice course in London over 10 months. This is all about relationship-based practice. It’s an important investment because it challenges our ways of working and develops us as practitioners. It also highlights how much the authority values its staff development and I feel really privileged to get that opportunity.

“In North Yorkshire we are seeing a big shift in our practice with families from the ‘we know best’ approach of years gone by. You can be a good social worker by going through all the processes and motions of the job, but to be a really effective social worker it’s all about relationships. Joining a family in some of their most vulnerable times is a real privilege that we don’t take lightly. If you can get the relationship right, you can just about journey with the family through anything. We can disagree and challenge and go through difficult situations but we are always working together as partners to meet the needs of the situation. We don’t always run on agreement, but we run on a culture of honour and respect. We are curious about families, what are they really great at, what is working here, what have I seen in them that I can partner with them to strengthen and build. We don’t join families from a position of power and oppression, telling them what to do, often they already know what they need.

“This isn’t just a job. Families know when your heart is not in it, children are not just numbers on a caseload, these are our kids, we need to listen with our hearts not our heads, they need to know that you care, they can work with you; and that you will fight for them.”

Jonny Hoyle has been praised for his “tireless” commitment to promoting the causes of children in care and also the causes of social work.   

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Jonny, a social worker in child protection, was also one of the Council’s looked-after children.  He says he has wanted to put something back for all the support he was given as a looked-after child. 

Jonny is a trustee of the charity, A National Voice, in his spare time; a charity he founded with his brother to represent the interests of looked-after children and to make sure their voice is heard and can influence policy making. 

Up until 2013 he was a member of the All Parliamentary Group for Looked-After Children where he advocated for changes to be made to the care system and was also a member of the Social Work Reform Board, which worked to change social work and develop the College of Social Work.

Jonny says he is proud to be part of the “the drive and passion in North Yorkshire’s social work teams to improve outcomes for children and families.” 

He has also been commended for championing new technology in order to undertake direct work with children and young people, reducing the amount of time that social workers spend recording the work they complete.

“No case is left to drift here,” he said. “My managers know every case in their team and there is a constant drive to work out what the issues are, what families need and how they can be supported in the long term to make their lives better.” 

He said: “I get out to see how social work is carried out in other authorities and all I can say is that in this county everything is totally focused on the best outcomes for the child – the way social workers interact with the new prevention service; the way we use new technologies so can spend our time going out and working directly with children and families; the way social workers are supported.

“We have manageable caseloads and happy teams built on trust.  The team I am in is brilliant.  Everybody gets on.  Any issues are swiftly dealt with so we can move on.”

Bev Barker has worked in children’s social care in North Yorkshire for 23 years.  For many years she worked as a personal adviser in the county’s leaving care team.  Aged 47, she qualified as a social worker four years ago having been supported and seconded by the County Council to undertake her social work degree.  She now works in child protection.  It is a job she loves, despite its challenges.

Bev herself has overcome significant difficulties in her life.  She comes from a troubled family and was a teenage mother.  She is extremely proud that she now works professionally to help children and young people make their lives better.  She said: “From my own experience I understand why families sometimes behave or react the way we do, and our job is to keep children and families together safely.

“This job is so rewarding.  Day to day I never know what I am going to face, but I do know that I will be supported every step of the way by my team and my managers from the top down.  

“In North Yorkshire social work is very much about working with partners, as a multi-agency operation and we are focused totally on families’ needs.  I wanted to work directly with families and I have all the support necessary to do that successfully.

“It means I can turn cases around, such as one girl I supported who was constantly missing, at high risk of child sexual exploitation and going through serious substance misuse.  She was 17 when she was referred to me and we wondered if we would ever get her through to 18 – we were so worried something horrible would happen to her. .  But bit by bit we gained her trust.  The support we gave her was consistent.  We were there through the rough and the smooth.  We didn’t give false hope or make promises to her we couldn’t keep.  

“She was in very crowded temporary accommodation with her siblings and her mother and nobody was coping.  We got her independent supported living and eventually things got better, She has now detoxed completely, she has completed her order with youth justice, she is in a long-term relationship, she is looking positively at her future.  

“We are so well supported here to deal with families in this positive way.   We have regular supervision and are recognised and commended for good work.  We have very experienced managers and their door is always open.  Many social workers have been with the authority for a long time for the very reason that the support is there.  There are many opportunities for progression and you are encouraged to go forward. The caseload is very manageable. It’s like working for a very supportive family.”