Best mentoring initiative - London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

Senior managers at Barking and Dagenham Council 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. 


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 Barking and Dagenham Council 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, OBE at the University of Kent, and based on his Attachment and Relationship Based Practice (ARBP) programme. 

The training helps to deepen social workers’ 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 2017, the council has worked directly with Professor Shemmings to train social workers. More than 100 permanent employees from numerous teams have completed the programme so far, and a further cohort is planned for later this year. 

However, they didn’t want the success to end at the initial training and sought to embed ARBP skills into everyday practice.  

They created a network of ARBP champions to help support their colleagues. These individuals receive regular training via monthly group and 1-2-1 coaching and mentoring, action learning, and case discussion forums, both in person and via Skype. Managers were also upskilled; they received a condensed version of the ARBP training, so they could help embed the new skills via ongoing supervision and feedback 

Quality Assurance audits provided important evidence of the impact on direct working skills and capturing the voice of the child. During a recent Ofsted inspection, the training and development offer was highlighted as an area of particularly good practice. 

This development initiative has helped with the recruitment and retention of Barking and Dagenham Council’s children’s social workers. This in turn has helped to stabilise the workforce by increasing new starts and subsequently reducing agency costs.  

Watch what one of their champions had to say about their experience of the programme.