Being a social worker is a difficult role – the work can be challenging and stress levels are undeniably high. In fact, research from the British Journal of Social Work found that the tenure of the average social worker is just over seven and a half years, compared with 25 years for a doctor or 16 years for nurses.
Senior managers at London Borough of Barking and Dagenham wanted to change those damning statistics in their workforce. They recognised that a combination of ongoing professional development and career management, alongside quality supervision, was critical in retaining social workers across the council’s children’s social work teams.
The resulting initiative was developed in conjunction with Professor David Shemmings at the University of Kent, who applied his Attachment and Relationship Based Practice (ARBP) programme to the development of the Barking and Dagenham workforce.
The ARBP programme aimed to help social workers gain a deeper understanding of human relationships and equip them with critical skills and knowledge to make a difference in the lives of children and their families.
Since the programme’s inception in 2015, the borough has worked directly with Professor Shemmings to train social workers, and more than 100 permanent employees from numerous teams have completed the programme so far – with a further cohort planned for later this year.
However, the HR team did not want the success to end at the initial training and sought to embed ARBP skills into everyday practice. They developed a three-fold approach to weave this programme into the team’s daily lives.
First, they created a network of ARBP ‘champions’, who receive continuous training on a monthly basis from Professor Shemmings, to support colleagues who received the initial training and provide advice on how ARBP principles can be used in cases
The borough also provided social workers with access to webinars, learning events and the opportunity to research to enhance their practice.
Finally, they build an awareness among the managers to identify ARBP skills during worker and case supervisions. The managers are encouraged to analyse each case, establish where they are seeing these skills and promote further discussion with their workers.
All this work has paid off in a recent Ofsted inspection, which highlighted the training and development offer as an area of particularly good practice.
The team has also been able to hire more than 50 permanent social workers this year, compared to 13 in 2016/17, and released 37 agency workers.
While the improvements cannot be solely attributed to the programme, the training caught the eye of judges, who said it was a “truly innovative coaching change programme that is clearly transforming children’s and social workers’ lives”.