One of the best aspects of my role is meeting and talking with social workers in their practice contexts, hearing about developments in improving practice and finding better ways to support them in their work.
I recently spoke at Harrow’s social work conference and was impressed with the approach being established there which involves providing staff with quality supervision and continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities. This work is clearly having a positive impact, so I am delighted to host this guest blog from two of its champions, team manager Persis Kisitu and social worker supporting CPD Michelle Delon.
At its core, social work is about understanding the people we work with, their families and communities. As social workers we strive to manage ever increasing caseloads, often involving complex family structures.
We work with people who have had harrowing experiences, unexpected challenges and crises in their lives - and who need us to be calm, well informed and in a position to be their advocates. As such, we must honour this trust and expectation, maintaining our professionalism, values and empathy for as long as our support is needed.
However, we are also people who can have complex and sometimes difficult personal lives. At times, we can feel at risk of becoming overwhelmed, making it more challenging to uphold our values and skills when helping others. The Professional Capability Framework (PCF) and the Knowledge and Skills Statements (KSS) for Adults are both excellent ideals for how we should be. But how does that work on the frontline, when we are no longer in our first year of practice and barely have time to eat lunch?
To support all staff, including qualified social workers, care managers and customer support officers; we set up Continual Professional Development Reflective Sessions based around the PCF and the KSS. These were group supervision sessions where staff would identify a case relating to that weeks theme (for example how we maintain professionalism in the face of difficulty).
We were not sure how these sessions would be received. This has never been done before in our borough. Would staff make time and come? Would managers allow staff to take the time away from their desk and casework? Would we be able to run these sessions at all given the fact we were not experienced group supervisors or trainers?
We developed the sessions to run along Gibbs reflective cycle, added a theoretical basis depending on the theme, which we discussed at the start of the session, and asked staff to complete a pre and post questionnaire to measure any changes in their confidence in working within the PCF and KSS.
We were quite surprised at the outcome! Staff would stop us in the corridors to ask when the next session was going to be. They were also raised as a positive example of social work support in our *2016 Social Work Health Check and each session had a good uptake of staff. Conversations were always lively and reflective.
*What is the Social Work Health Check?
This ‘health check’ is an audit of how employers of social workers are performing against a set of standards. These include workload management, improving practice, having the right tools to do the job and staff welfare. In order to carry this out in Harrow, six meetings were set up with an independent facilitator and attended by both frontline social workers and team managers. The feedback went to senior managers and an action plan drawn up to respond to the issues highlighted, which was then shared with all the adult social workers.
Cases were discussed with a focus on the people needing support, framed within the context of restrictions we must work with. There was no blame when staff admitted difficulty - instead we saw a culture of support where staff had the confidence to raise a particular issue amongst their peers and be assured of assistance.
The sessions also shone a light on different ways of working, increased awareness of standards and values, and demonstrated the empathy and commitment we share when providing quality support for our communities.
We saw clear evidence of improved practice and standards and better understanding of partnership and multi-disciplinary working, as well as increased understanding and confidence working within the PCF and KSS.
Following on from the three conversation model discussed in Lyn’s blog earlier this year, the reflective sessions are another set of tools to enable our workforce to be aware that the people we see are just that – people. They make up our communities and in many cases will be our friends and neighbours. With this realisation, we can start to really listen to the people we work for and support them within familiar resources and structures.
To reflect on such cases and to admit difficulty is not easy and often forgotten in the day to day life of a social worker. However, it can’t be underestimated how important taking time out from case work can be. Focused group reflection on difficult or challenging situations can be enlightening and empowering for all of us, but most importantly for the people we work for.
After all - as someone wisely once said: "If you can’t look after your social workers, they can’t look after you."
Our guest bloggers
Michelle Delon is a social worker supporting continual professional development in adult services for Harrow Council
Persis Kisitu is a team manager supporting Continual Professional Development in Adult Services for Harrow Council