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What makes a good social worker: Shaping practice by listening to people

Good, trusting relationships with social workers can support families to be able to make sustainable change for their children, according to a seminar at the COMPASS Jobs Fair, Birmingham.

26/03/24

What makes a good social worker: Shaping practice by listening to people

Reforming social work practice to focus on family-led decision making has reduced the numbers of children taken into care by Coventry City Council.

In a seminar presented at the COMPASS Jobs Fair in Birmingham this week, James Orchard, Children’s Champion for Coventry City Council, looked at how children and their families had shaped services to make sustainable change.

‘We asked them how we can make things safer for young people and that meant a shift in practice to focus on the families themselves,’ he said.

Families and young people talked about the importance of building trusting relationships with social workers. Social workers had to trust the families too: ‘a lot of the time, the families have the answers. We know that families coming up with their own solutions are likely to have solutions that work,’ he said.

‘Consistency, compassion, listening and understanding’ were key elements. Transparency from the social worker was vital too. ‘If people don’t know what we are there for, that makes things very difficult and puts you on the back foot.

‘Nobody wants a social worker visiting their house but we can do it in a way that is respectful.’

Timekeeping was mentioned. “If you are going to be late, let them know.’
Effective communication, including language, was another factor. One young person told them ‘ I don’t know about all these abbreviations but I don’t think they are necessary for our files. If a young person accesses those files and doesn’t know what they mean it can come across as us lacking something or making us feel that we did something wrong.’

One parent said, ‘You need people that show affection because [our current social work] did and that meant she cared – that helped a lot. We had two social workers before that didn’t even listen, never mind care.’

The Coventry approach also means engaging effectively with fathers, for example finding out whether fathers can get time off work to participate fully.

‘Failure to engage with fathers has significant consequences: it limits the positive impact fathers can have on their children’s lives; it reduces the likelihood of fathers being used as a resource to support the families; it over-burdens the mothers, who are unfairly made responsible for caring for children emotionally, practically and financially.’

Ultimately, ‘it stops change.’

Mr Orchard said that in the past two years since the shift towards family decision-making in Coventry, ‘we have seen a consistent reduction in the numbers of children looked after by the local authority.’ It had decreased from 735 children in March 2021 to 647 today.

‘For staff, the work is about high support and high challenge. For our NQSWs, we have a cap of ten children they are working with, so they can really work with them, rather than have them running around putting the fires out.’

Ultimately, Coventry aims to equip families with the support they need to function as independently as possible. ‘We see families who have done incredibly, getting through to the stage where they feel equipped to manage our relationship dependently – knowing that support is just a phone call away.’

Find out more about working for Coventry City Council: https://www.coventry.gov.uk/socialworkjobs

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