The Children’s Social Work Matters (CSWM) programme was launched 10 years ago to champion the vital role of children’s social workers and raise industry standards.
Children’s social work teams up and down the country have historically had to deal with ever-rising case numbers, negative public perceptions and high vacancy rates, often against a backdrop of budget cuts and unfavourable publicity. In Yorkshire and the Humber the picture is no different and the response has been a collective call to action by the region’s 15 council children’s services departments.
The Children’s Social Work Matters (CSWM) programme was launched 10 years ago to champion the vital role of children’s social workers and raise industry standards. In the first and only collaboration of its kind, it also sought to tackle other major issues that were impacting on services, including high agency and vacancy rates, myths and misconceptions about the role, and low morale.
In 2011, the CSWM proposition to challenge social work misconceptions through proactive communications and to encourage regional services to work collaboratively was unique, so we needed children’s social work teams to make a leap of faith.
We began by building links between stakeholders at all levels and at every opportunity. A major focus was encouraging and supporting teams and individuals to not only be open and honest about their practice challenges, but also to highlight how rewarding our line of work can be.
If we were to dispel misconceptions about the profession, raise morale and attract and retain the right people, we also needed to promote the role and its many benefits.
The CSWM website was launched in 2011. Aimed primarily at addressing these issues, it provides a wealth of information about the role of children’s social workers, including case studies, qualifications needed and routes into the profession.
A jobs page, featuring vacancies from across the region, was added to the site in 2013 and an internal portal was also introduced that same year.
The internal portal provides a platform where children’s social workers from across our region can share knowledge, resources and best practice. With online and in-person events playing a huge role in our approach to training, learning and sharing knowledge, we’ve successfully hosted a number of wide-ranging events and activities for our registered users. Our ‘Festival of Social Work’ conferences, for example, are a platform to both celebrate and educate, with a genuine recognition of children’s social worker achievements and keynote sessions from industry experts and those with care experience. We’ve also hosted a series of interactive, information-sharing workshops led by our colleagues, parents and young people, covering topics such as workforce resilience, poverty, neglect, accreditation and transitional safeguarding.
Yorkshire and the Humber was the first region to work together in this way, the scale of which remains unique today, and CSWM continues to receive longstanding national recognition of its work and the value it brings.
The feedback we’ve had so far from colleagues, partners and stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive. The website has been viewed 658,991 times by 556,167 unique visitors. This, along with a series of ongoing awareness-raising campaigns, has resulted in staff continuing to report a boost in morale and confidence, as well as a better acknowledgement in the community of the status and importance of the role.
The response from the jobs page has been phenomenal, with some councils reporting a 200 per cent increase in job applications during the programme's third year. We have received feedback from a number of councils to say that when their jobs were not advertised on the CSWM page, there had been a noticeable reduction in the amount of applications they received. As a region, we have since consistently achieved lower-than-national-average workforce vacancy and agency worker rates. 2020 data has shown a vacancy rate of 12.8 per cent in the region against a national rate of 16.1 per cent, with agency rates being 11.1 per cent regionally compared with 15.4 per cent nationally.
The internal portal currently has around 5,000 registered practitioners, students and academics actively engaging at every level of the programme. This includes our many events and activities, which have been attended by thousands of our registered users. We’ve had feedback from colleagues, telling us that they always look forward to our events, which they find to be insightful, thought-provoking and engaging.
Issues such as poverty, abuse, domestic violence and neglect have always been at the forefront of children’s social work practice, but as we know, the pandemic only served to exacerbate those issues, resulting in a national spike in demand for our services. When the pandemic first hit we found ourselves in the fortuitous position of having a well-established infrastructure in place to support our children’s social workers at a time when they needed it most. This included the continuation of regular online events and meetings via our secure, online portal, allowing everyone to share good practice and implement different ways of working with families to deliver vital services during the lockdowns. As an example, we held an online, interactive stakeholder event to help support effective practice and child safety during the lockdowns, covering topics from staff working arrangements and well-being, to online safety and emotional support for children in care.
It was those well-established, regional partnerships that proved to be invaluable during those difficult months and it’s fair to say the pandemic has further cemented those bonds. Without those trusted, close connections we would not have been able to have such open and frank conversations about the challenges we were all faced with. This made it much easier to implement better working practices with all of our stakeholders, be it with neighbouring authorities, adult social care teams or other key partners; continually sharing resources, knowledge and information.
Whilst there are no quick or easy answers, the CSWM programme has made significant progress in addressing some of the key issues faced by our children’s social workers. So much so that in recent years we’ve been approached by other children’s services teams in England looking to replicate our model; a model which has in the past ten years, resulted in collective financial value and cost savings of more than £700,000 for our councils in the Yorkshire and Humber region.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The scale, collective resource, longevity and sustainability of CSWM have enabled significant cost savings and efficiencies as the programme continues to evolve and grow. At a cost of only £7,500 per year to each council, the programme also delivers substantial value.
The scale of resource that the 15 councils bring, has enabled investment in the use of digital technology, and to reach and engage with significant numbers of social workers and stakeholders.
CSWM is a collaboration that gives our children’s social workers a voice, allowing innovative practice to be highlighted, celebrated and shared, all for the benefit of those needing our services.
The bringing together of professionals from a wide range of backgrounds such as marketing, PR, HR, training, academics, practitioners at all levels and importantly those with lived experience on this scale, is unique and is really making a difference across our region. This has ensured that the core CSWM aims; to work collaboratively and learn together, have remained an important focus for the Children’s Service teams across the region.
The development, growth and success of the programme has been due in no small part, to the long-standing commitment of all our councils and our many established working groups. This sustained commitment has allowed the programme to grow and evolve organically, producing incremental results, which have reinforced the benefits of participating in the programme for councils.
Ultimately we’ve also learned that working and learning together as one big children’s social work team is helping us to improve outcomes for the children and families we serve to support and protect and CSWM will remain a core driver of this.
Karen Jones, Communications & Marketing Manager
Children’s Social Work Matters KarenJones2@barnsley.gov.uk