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How Hull is using tech to help children experiencing a change of social worker

Hull City Council has taken a dynamic approach to use digital technology to increase learning and improve service provision for children and young people.

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This has included podcasts, a ‘Children Experiencing a Change of Social Worker’ webinar, a short animated film and the Bright Spots survey in 2021, whereby looked after children shared views about the impact of change of social worker. 

This innovative and powerful work has been young people-led, via Hull’s Children in care council - Young Voices Influencing Care (YVIC) and supported by both an exceptional youth worker and the Social Work Academy. The podcast has been complemented with a set of practice standards for social workers and is part of the social work induction programme. 

A group of women working on the Hull project. They are in a meeting room with a projector.

The challenge:

Changes from one social worker to another remain one of the most common sources of instability for children in care. In October 2021, as part of a national survey, 231 of Hull’s children looked after aged 4-17 provided feedback. This included some positive messages about their care and key aspects of their lives that could be better. For some children, a change in social worker was a worry with one child reporting

When social workers have to change there should be a really good reason why, we need proper explanations as we have a lot of things going on and worry about things

The solution:

Hull asked YVIC members to identify key priorities for improvement and to help them ensure that these were communicated across the whole partnership in ways that would have a powerful and lasting impact.  

Firstly, in January 2022, they produced a hard-hitting podcast that described how children feel when there is a change of social worker without proper explanation. Then in February 2022, YVIC members made an inspirational animated film ‘Dream on’ in collaboration with Yorkshire-based production company My Pockets. The film was created by children and young people and is narrated by a young looked-after child. It describes a child waking up ‘in care’ and explores the enduring importance of connections with friends and family, reflecting that being ‘in care’ is a temporary status.

The Social Work Academy created a webcast to feedback to children and young people on how the Council is responding to their identified priorities. Working with the Principal Social Worker (PSW), the Academy co-created a set of social work practice standards for managing a change of social worker and the PSW pledged to disseminate the learning to all social workers in the council via their team meetings. 

The impact:

The YVIC podcast is a reminder of the central importance of a consistent social worker. Children can be re-traumatised when re-telling their story in the absence of a well-planned and sensitively managed handover. The PSW and Academy have committed to routinely sampling the experiences of children with a change of social worker to ensure that changes are managed well. Time has been set aside at leadership meetings and social workers at service areas were ‘stopping the clock’ to share the podcast. The podcast has reached all of Hull’s safeguarding teams.

Dream On’ has been circulated to all Hull employees by the Chief Executive, and was screened at the corporate strategy team meeting, corporate parenting panel, scrutiny commission and school assemblies. Innovation continues with Hull providing keyrings to all children’s services staff, foster carers and designated teachers containing a QR code that links to the film. On 22nd June 2022, at the Houses of Parliament, two YVIC ‘A national voice’ ambassadors presented Josh MacAlister (chair of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care) with a keyring, he latterly tweeted about the powerful message of this animation. At the time of publication (May 2023), ‘Dream on’ has been viewed over 4,200 times on YouTube.

The enduring benefit of using technology in this way is that the child’s voice is embedded in routine social work. For example, one young person who requested a permanent male social worker after multiple staffing changes was matched accordingly. The young person has had the same social worker ever since, describing him as “sound” as he feels listened to and they really get on. 

A diverse group of children is shown in front of a landscape. There is a quote above them all "Hull Young voices influencing care".

How is the new approach being sustained?

Following the launch of the Bright Spots survey, a short webinar was held to feedback to children how Bright Spots priorities were being taken forward. Audit activity running alongside this learning continues throughout 2023 to ensure that social work practice expectations are embedded in the support offered to children and their families. Regular workshops are available to all practitioners and focus on key messages from children, which includes the impact of a social worker change. Feedback from children was considered in the refresh of Hull’s social work practice standards in September 2022.

As a result of the Bright Spots consultation, Hull has ensured that looking after children’s priorities form the bedrock of their refreshed corporate parenting strategy, which addresses changes of social workers; having friends and being able to do the same things as their friends do; spending time with families; and bullying at school. Hull’s Director of Children’s Services wrote to all children in care to tell them about the outcomes of the Bright Spots survey and the work to improve aspects of their care experience. 

Lessons learned:

  • Some of Hull’s children and young people believed that when social workers left without providing an explanation that it was their fault. Introductions and goodbyes are key practice expectations for all social workers and practitioners so that children do not blame themselves and feel they are important and valued. 
  • Digital initiatives have had a powerful impact, with the considerable added value that they reach a wide audience, Co-production is embraced in Hull; the podcast and animated film highlight the voices of children, and what is most important to them. 
  • Hull’s creative use of digital technology has been acknowledged as sector-leading; Coram Voice showcased the work undertaken in Hull at their annual conference, whilst also securing the National Voice Award and the Digital Transformation Award in the Social Work awards.
  • Hull’s workforce recognises that there is no guarantee that the same social worker can support a child for the duration of the service they need. However, with expectations that they follow practice standards on introductions, transitions, and endings this results in children feeling less anxious or worried about the next steps. The continued commitment to learning and evaluating this workstream is improving the service delivery to children and young people. 


Claire Rutherford 

Link to ‘Dream On’ short film: