A learning environment where innovative practice flourishes

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For the second time in three years, Essex County Council has been named Employer of the Year for the Social Worker of the Year Awards, and practitioner Melanie Noel has also won the Adult Social Worker’s Gong. year.

These are among several awards that the board – ranked Outstanding for Children’s Services by Ofsted – has won at the annual celebration of social work in recent years.

For this year’s Employer of the Year category, the judges judged that: “Essex has demonstrated a real commitment to providing a generally high level of service to its communities and, most importantly, to supporting and nurture its staff and their continuous development. “

Much of this is the experience of staff working in West Essex – one of the county’s four quadrants in which services are organized.

“A workload that allows innovative practices to flourish”

“Essex is an exceptional authority and a leader in improving practices,” says Michelle Hayden-Pepper, director of local delivery of children’s services in West Essex. “In the West, the workloads are manageable, they are children under 15 [long-term] family support and protection teams.

“It’s a workload that allows an innovative practice to flourish. We are able to stop and think and the staff are well supported to do so. “

On the adult social care side, Services Manager Annelise Barns says: “The workloads are of a manageable level and cover a varying degree of complexity depending on the skill base of the social workers. “

Child and Family Services Manager Bianka Lang, who is responsible for the Family Support and Protection Teams, Time and Family Support Service and Family Center in the Quadrant, said, “The quality of practice is high because we are a learning workspace and we understand truly reflective practice, from senior level to new graduate.

The learning objective is enriched by the quadrant with many students – including through Frontline and Step Up to Social Work – as well as newly qualified practitioners.

A learning environment

However, it goes far beyond formal learning.

Head of Assessment and Intervention for Children and Youth with Disabilities, Kiran Box, says: “We encourage shared learning and if anyone has a particular area of ​​interest, they will do a presentation for their children. colleagues and share their learning. For example, there was one recently on including the father in social work assessments.

With the emphasis on learning comes developmental opportunities, explains Lisa Smith, Manager of Adult Social Care Services.

During monthly management supervision sessions, staff members are encouraged to identify areas of practice they wish to develop, leading to opportunities for secondment to other teams or simply to work in another area of ​​practice, helping them to develop.

As in the rest of Essex, social workers who wish to grow in practice have the opportunity to apply for various roles to support their development in the next steps. team leader positions are the ideal springboard.

“The West is the best”

All of this is based on a strong and united ethic, which was vital during Covid-19.

“We say ‘West is Best’ because there is such a sense of belonging,” says Annelise.

“Because we are such a united group within West, it was easier to adapt to working under Covid-19. “

Lisa adds: “Morale is high. Nobody says, “It’s not my job.” If someone does not come out of it, everyone comes together to support them.

A diversified territory

West Essex is a diverse region, both in its communities and geography. It stretches from Epping, just outside London, but also incorporating forest, through the town of Harlow to the predominantly rural Uttlesford.

“We’re a very diverse community that spans quite a long distance,” says Lisa. “Harlow is very densely populated, Uttlesford is very large and rural, the Epping area having a mixture of the two.”

Michelle says she offers great connections to London, while Kiran says she provides “decent affordable housing” that would strongly attract people looking to leave the capital, as well as good schools.

The diversity of communities served by West Essex is reflected in the leadership role it has played across the county in anti-racism practices.

At the forefront of anti-racist practice

This included organizing workshops on Black Lives Matter and setting up a support group for black workers.

“We are pushing the anti-racist practices agenda forward,” Kiran says. “We have a large number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and many more black families [than the rest of the county]. We have a growing number of black employees and therefore we ensure that they have opportunities to grow and develop. “

In children’s services, all statutory social work teams fall under the responsibility of the quadrant. On the adult side, West encompasses physical and sensory impairments, learning disabilities and autism, elderly mental health and exit teams to assess, three community support teams, two early intervention teams and single point of access service.

Single service approach

Kiran says working in a quadrant allows for a “one-service approach,” between different teams and between adult and children’s services, which would be difficult over a larger geographic footprint.

“The quadrant keeps things from being too siled,” says Michelle. “We aim to work so that everyone is part of the same department. We believe relationships are important, so we make sure that children and families receive the right service at the right time so that they can build those relationships that can bring about change.

This is in line with the strengths-based model of practice that Essex practices across the county.

“We have a relatively small number of children on child protection plans and in custody, so we assume that children are better off with their families,” says Kiran. “It’s easy to say, but we do it very well in the West. “

Michelle adds, “It’s a very clear model of practice. We believe children are best placed within their families where they can do so safely, and when we take care of children it is well thought out and timely. What we don’t do is take care of them without a clear care plan and thinking about the impact of our intervention because that in itself can be harmful.

In adult services, there is a similar strengths-based approach. Lisa adds: “In adult social care, we ensure that the adult remains at the center of any assessment or examination that promotes a strengths-based approach and a holistic view.

Exciting moments

It is an exciting time to practice in West Essex. On the adult side, under the leadership of a new director, the service deepens its integration with health and other services. The single point of access becomes a care coordination center, offering an integrated gateway to the health service.

And the teams will work in six Primary Care Network Aligned Core Teams (PACT) that are aligned with community health services and local care providers, ensuring people don’t have to repeat their stories together. services.

On the children’s side, Michelle says, “We are thinking about innovation and change. We are looking to expand our service for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We get involved to support children in need at school. There are many innovative programs in which Essex is leading the way. “

Kiran says, “If you are a social worker who wants to practice good relationship-based social work, going back to your roots, this is the place for you. Relationship-based practice is our bread and butter.

If you want to work in West Essex or the wider county, check out the last vacancies here.


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