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Cheshire East seeing success with university partnerships in children's social care

Cheshire East Council’s director of children’s social care, Jacquie Sims, explains how a new approach to training programmes for social care workers has brought better results.

Keeping excellent, reliable staff is the recipe for the success of any organisation and when it comes to the retention of social workers, this is magnified even further. The overall picture for making a career in social work nationally is not always painted positively, and it is no secret that turnover of staff in this rapidly growing sector is much higher than desired.

However, at Cheshire East we are determined to buck the trend and that’s why for the last two years we have dedicated more resources to developing and nurturing relationships with partners at local universities, ensuring some of the best social work talent has the opportunity to flourish.

Professional placements are a vital part of anyone’s career development and until 2017 it’s fair to say that we didn’t really actively push how, as an organisation, we could help others and at the same time ourselves.

For a degree in social work, students tend to take two professional placements which are on average a year apart. The first placement is the students’ initial introduction to the professional working environment, and provides the building blocks for their future careers.


For the second placement, we encourage students to be more independent in their learning and how they apply themselves, building on both their previous experiences and the training they receive at university after their first placement. Previously, we only took students for their second placements but are now seeing the benefits of meeting students earlier in their careers.

Kristy Broadhurst, a social worker with us, said: “I have been extremely fortunate to have a supportive employer to promote my career progression and provide a wide range of development opportunities. I am grateful my progression has recently led me to be successfully appointed to manage a small team of family practitioners within the child in need/child protection team, enabling me to develop management skills - as this has been my aspiration since qualification.”

READ MORE: Liverpool council to hire 160 new staff in ‘unprecedented’ investment in children’s social care

READ MORE: PSE Budget roundup: £500m housing fund, £84m granted to children’s services

Having made introductions with students who had the potential to become candidates for roles at our council, it was important that the work offer we made was able to meet their career expectations. And this is where having a clear career pathway for our social workers really helps us.

The first step into social work is via an assisted year in employment (ASYE). Our ASYE allows us to maintain a much closer level of contact with recently graduated students, so that they don’t feel they’re on their own as soon as they leave the building. But it’s actually much more than that.

Over time, new colleagues can see prospective routes through to advanced practitioner roles. This has the positive knock-on effect of staff being more motivated throughout their social work careers. Naturally, our more experienced colleagues feed off this positivity and the end result is a working environment with a real buzz. Of course, none of this would be possible without our partners and we have been extremely fortunate to forge strong relationships with a number of universities.

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Helen Franklin, teaching fellow in social work for Keele University, said: “From practitioner involvement in recruitment of students through to qualifying as social workers, we have a positive and strong working relationship with Cheshire East Council’s children's services.

“Moving forward, I’m confident that we will bring more students to Cheshire East. We’re already seeing terrific benefits in the programme, including what a better-trained workforce brings to the organisation. But it’s much more than that. A stable and more experienced workforce brings stronger relationships with families which ultimately leads to happier, healthier and safer outcomes for our vulnerable children.”

Source: PSE June/July 2019


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