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COVID-19 (coronavirus): accelerating learning and development

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Social work: the profession

With a social work career spanning over 24 years, Rashida Baig specialises in child protection and complex issues impacting ethnic minorities. She recently celebrated being made an MBE for her work with vulnerable children and their families. Here she gives her advice on getting ahead by leading from the front and advocating better practice.

A person smiling for the camera
Rashida Baig MBE.

I qualified as a social worker in 2000. My route into the profession was by chance. Married at a young age because of cultural norms, my desire for university took a back seat until a friend introduced me to the flexible approach to learning offered by the Open University. I gained a degree in social psychology, juggling caring responsibilities and part-time work.

A chance conversation led me to first find work as a branch fieldworker for the Pre-School Learning Alliance and subsequently as an Under Eight’s Officer for the Local Authority. I was responsible for registering a range of daycare provision, which was my introduction to the world of children’s social care. I later became a Registered Nursery Inspector for Ofsted.

Throughout this period I had an intense interest in social justice and advocated for anti-racist practice in the Early Years with a number of successful consultancy appointments. These included the National Children’s Bureau, Early Years Anti-Racist Network, the National Early Years Network and Honorary Research Associate at the Centre for Ethnic Minority Studies, Royal Holloway, University of London. These opportunities combined my passion for social justice, empowerment, the right to self-determination and equality for all; in my view the perfect foundation to launch my social work career.

I learnt the ‘art of social work’ in Slough and Hillingdon and then later in more senior management roles in Wokingham, West Berkshire and more recently, Croydon. Even when in management roles I ensured I never lost sight of what it is to be a practitioner, taking on a few pieces of independent work a year across England and internationally to develop insight into different practice systems. This ensures I ‘remain rooted in practice’ and never lose touch with the pressures of the frontline.

Understanding the necessary context for practice to thrive led me to taking an active role in planning for the National Assessment and Accreditation System (NAAS) in 2016.

NAAS aims to enable child and family social workers to develop skills and knowledge to improve outcomes for children and families. I helped to drive improved equality, diversity, and inclusion in the design, delivery and participation in the programme.

I remain passionate about the importance of clear CPD pathways and standards that are understood nationally and provide social workers with an opportunity to aspire to excellence in practice.

Coping with COVID-19 (coronavirus) while prioritising career aspirations and goals

There is no doubt in my mind that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the social work profession. Our work-lives have changed forever with less reliance on face to face contact and using digital platforms in ways we could never have considered even six months ago.

COVID-19 has crystallised the essence of what is important, what we need, and what we can do more creatively. Human contact remains important to the core of social work for our most disadvantaged as the relationships built over time become the fuel driving change. There is a recognition they cannot simply be built digitally but digital platforms have become an essential tool in our toolbox.

This is an important time to think about CPD opportunities from a wider lens and using the delivery of current practice models to look at outcomes and the difference we can, and are making.

Top tips for professional growth in the COVID-19 recovery period

Below are some of my top tips for professional growth:

  1. Actively make a difference in driving equality, diversity, and inclusion

    This should be a daily activity and integrated in everything we do. It is important that we individually take responsibility for understanding the roots of oppression, racism, colonialism, structural inequalities and barriers to diversity.

  2. Insist on the Post-Qualifying Standards (PQS) being embedded into your appraisals

    They need to become the fabric of learning and development. For each standard, consider how inequality operates and approaches you can take to tackle it.

  3. Proactively seek out CPD opportunities

    The world of training and development has expanded with webinars being delivered online. This has been part of the development offer for some time but simply not utilised as widely because of the preference given to classroom learning. I have found myself accessing all sorts of opportunities which with my normal diary pre-COVID-19 would have been unthinkable.

  4. Understand the vision and values behind the NAAS

    Demonstrate them, be proud of them and be confident in both your social work value base and your practice wisdom.

  5. Show an interest in leadership standards and leadership programmes

    NAAS provides a framework for practice leaders to support social workers in developing knowledge and skills within a nationally recognised standard. It is our responsibility to ensure continual professional development (CPD) opportunities are aligned to the PQS to develop expertise within the practice system and promote and enhance quality learning. This ensures we provide the highest quality support and protection to our most vulnerable children. Focus on the standards help to create the context for practice to flourish.

Looking to the future

COVID-19 has accelerated change that may have happened over a decade to a short span of five months providing opportunities for the profession, for example:

  1. We can build relationships with colleagues across the country, share resources, and be able to connect with speed.
  2. Much of our professional activity with our colleagues can remain via digital platforms which encourages us to be concise, precise and get things done.
  3. We have an opportunity to amalgamate and analyse the evidence base to build a sustainable social care service fit for the 21st Century. This means meeting the needs of our digital generation and creating pathways into the worlds of our children and families which we have never seriously considered before.
  4. Digital platforms have also allowed us to connect with children, young people and their families to inform how we design and deliver services. They are the key to our present and future roles and there is an opportunity to hear their voices more strongly and consistently. A number of our young children and adults have positively embraced virtual visits enabling better relationships to be built with their social workers. For some of the children in our care, family contact has flourished when held virtually where they have reported that talking to their families has felt more normal rather than visiting a contact centre.

For me personally, my ambition remains to lead a practice system which enables families to remain together and that strengthens community cohesion. Where this is not possible, it's to make sure children and young people receive the nurture and care from the corporate parents to which they are entitled and that we as public servants have a duty to deliver to a high standard.

The key to achieving this is to nurture a skilled workforce who knows its purpose, is clear on its value base, has tenacity and curiosity about the human condition and above all puts the welfare of children at the centre of practice.

Do you know someone in the Children’s Social Care Sector who deserves an Honour? Take a look at further information about the awards, including how to make a nomination.

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