Revealing the ‘colourful tapestry’ of social work
My name is Linda Hancock and I have been a social worker for nearly nine years, I am employed by Staffordshire County Council as a senior practitioner in a safeguarding team. However, I am currently seconded to the North West Midlands Teaching Partnership to undertake the Workforce Development Project ‘Supply and Demand’.
I have undertaken post-graduate education in social work to certificate level and hold the Practice Educator Stage 2 Award. Having previously worked for Stoke-on-Trent City Council, I have 16 years’ experience working in local authority social care departments.
I have undertaken various roles in administration and family support before progressing as a qualified social worker. Over the years I have gained a broad range of experience in social work practice with children and families including safeguarding, working with looked after children and court and care planning casework.
I have been able to use my skills and experience by sharing good practice and supporting social work students and newly qualified social workers. When I undertook this project, I underestimated the complexity of supply and demand in workforce planning. Within this teaching partnership, which has 10 partners, there is a huge amount of data to collate. A challenge has been knowing how and where to find data when there is no standardised way to do this. Also what do we do with this data in order to see what is happening with the workforce? How is this analysed? And, who by?
However, what I did find helpful is within the partnership there are various projects which support the education, recruitment, retention and ongoing professional development of social workers. These projects all interlink and overlap to encompass the whole social work journey from entry to university through a career path that may continue to retirement. It was very rewarding to share knowledge and learn from other consultants in the partnership who were all researching and finding ways forward in their individual projects.
From a personal perspective being in this teaching partnership has enabled me to see the social work profession through a different lens. It is easy to assume that social work begins with your first job after qualification. This project has helped me to appreciate the foundations of social work training and the complex process of entry to university for example.
I have had the privilege (yes privilege!) of interviewing social work applicants to university and embraced their fresh enthusiasm for the profession. This is something that can be forgotten after years of practice and brings home how continued professional development awakens your own practice.
I feel there is still a long way to go for all teaching partnerships and local authorities to meet the social work workforce needs which relates to supply and demand. The research so far has highlighted the issues of retention especially in children’s services and although there appears to be an adequate supply of newly qualified social workers, the profession is continually losing more experienced staff. In terms of this project the quantitative data will give a valuable base to build on but what will be a more exciting challenge is the research and in depth nature of the qualitative research that will give a greater insight into the social work profession. The drivers, incentives as well as the obstacles and barriers in the profession could reveal a ‘colourful tapestry’ of social work and what we can all learn from this currently and in the future.
Linda Hancock - Consultant Academic Social Worker