Mandy Goodenough works for Leicestershire County Council as the Principal Child and Family Social Worker. Her role sits in the unique Practice Excellence team which focuses on supporting the development of the frontline workforce. Here, Mandy discusses how Leicestershire celebrates examples of great practice and the local authority’s ambition to become a trauma-informed organisation.
I’ve been a social worker for 21 years. I had my children at a young age and I went back to education as an adult. I studied my A-Levels and then did a degree in Psychology before moving into social work. I think my own history had a role to play in my decision to be a social worker. My brother and I are both adopted. When his adoption broke down when he was 14 years old, he ended up going into care which sadly was not a good experience.
This, as well as being a young mum on my own, gave me an understanding of living with trauma and in poverty. These are issues at the heart of social work. I've always been a person that’s interested in supporting others and understanding where they’re coming from. Before I came into child and family social work, I spent time in adult care as a carer for the elderly and ran a Saturday club for disabled children.
Our ambition to be trauma-informed
On a day-to-day basis, Leicestershire County Council is on a journey towards becoming a trauma-informed and trauma-responsive organisation. We know from research that many of the workforce come with their own histories of trauma. This brings with it lots of opportunities and understanding. However, working with families can also be triggering; practitioners can experience secondary trauma through the work itself. That’s why it’s important that we recognise, understand and have support in place for all of our staff.
Practitioners often work with families who have a long and complex history of neglect, abuse and violence combined with pressing physical, mental, emotional and social needs. This trauma can influence the family’s relationships by impacting their ability to engage and build trust.
By understanding the cause and effects of trauma on the lives of children and families, we can transform the way on which we practice. Treating just the presenting issue is unlikely to resolve the problem from which all others stem. As Dr Karen Treisman, Highly Specialist Clinical Psychologist and trauma specialist, says, if you see a behaviour differently, you see a different behaviour; if you see a situation differently, you see a different situation.
Our ambition is to create a whole system that is trauma-informed. This needs to take into account leadership, language and communication, physical environment, workforce development, engagement and participation, policy and procedures, commissioning practice, supervision, staff wellbeing, partnership working, interventions, and recruitment.
In February 2021, it was agreed by the Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland (LLR) Strategic Partnership Board that this would be a cross-authority initiative. Here are a couple of examples of the things that we have put in place as part of this work:
- We have established a service for practitioners following a critical incident. Support is provided by a pool of therapists and consultants who are trained and have experience in supporting practitioners thorough trauma.
- We are in the process of piloting some practical changes. For example, we managed to secure some money to furnish a local area office through a trauma-informed lens, carefully choosing the furniture and pictures. We intend to seek feedback from staff, children and families to understand the difference that it is making.
We are starting to see the impact of what we are doing. I was talking to a team manager the other day who said they now keep seeing trauma everywhere; they are continually reflecting on what they might do differently to support the families and practitioners working with them. This is a big project, it will be a long journey but it’s very exciting.
Learning from what’s gone well
When social work comes up in the press, it’s often negative. Social work is a tough job made tougher by the pandemic. That’s why it's really important that all staff, including qualified social workers, are recognised and celebrated for their amazing practice. This has always been high on our agenda, our different teams have different approaches, for example:
Twice a year, the Senior Leadership Team goes out and observes frontline practice in different parts of the service.
It’s all about observing what staff do well, this is then shared with the practitioner. At first staff can be nervous, but feedback from staff who participate is really positive; they value having the opportunity to talk about and share their work. We believe that you learn from what's gone well.
We also conduct appreciative enquiries where we go out and unpick great examples of practice with social workers and families.
Once we understand how these examples were achieved, this is recorded and shared at learning events. Our Assistant Director, Sharon Cooke, also sends e-cards to these social workers to thank them for the support that they provide our children, young people and families.
One team has a ‘Jar of Joy’ which is a compliment box where they write positive things about their colleagues.
They can jot down anything they’ve noticed and been impressed by. These are then shared at team meetings. Many teams will also display thank you notes from families and professionals on ‘Impact Boards’.
Another team has a golden jacket and bum bag that make an appearance each week.
The First Response Screening and Assessment teams put forward the names of anyone who has gone the extra mile that week. The winner gets to wear the golden jacket and bum bag around the office. It’s a bit of light-hearted relief during long days of serious work – and as a bonus the bum bag is full of sweets!
Taking pride in practice
Working remotely has made celebrations a bit trickier, but it’s still important that we all come together when we can. As a whole council, we hold three large conferences a year. One is focused on practice and it’s called ‘Pride in Practice’.
We have seven award categories that are open to Children’s Social Care and the Child and Family Wellbeing Service:
- Outstanding Practitioner
- Outstanding Team Manager/Team Leader/Mentor
- The Brian Greenwood Award – related to Signs of Safety practice
- Outstanding Team
- Outstanding AYSE
- Children’s Advocate
- Effective Partnership Working
Anybody within the organisation can nominate somebody else, as can our children, families and carers. Then a panel shortlists the nominations to create a group of finalists. Every year, the winners are chosen by our Children in Care Council and announced at the conference. Everybody who's nominated will get a certificate and the winners receive a plaque.
Our 2021 event took place at the beginning of December and here is what some of the winners had to say:
Cher Watkins, Outstanding ASYE
I couldn’t believe it when I got the email saying I’d won - I gasped so loud colleagues asked me what’s wrong! It has been a difficult year, starting my social work career in lockdown. What made winning even more special was that the children’s panel decided who would win – it was just amazing and so emotional.
I finished my degree in 2020 so I was unable to celebrate my graduation with my family. A colleague recorded the moment I received my award and I sent it to my Gran, who was over the moon and so incredibly proud. My face ached so much from smiling - the award now sits in pride of place on my mantlepiece where no one’s allowed to touch it!
Margarita Manning, Outstanding Team
It meant so much to know the work of the team is valued. We are a small team and it can at times feel like the hard work that we do can go unnoticed. It was lovely to see the comments from colleagues in other parts of the service when we won, and how supportive they were of us being recognised.
We have had work coming in from different directions and had media attention due to the demographics of the children coming into the service. The team just get on with it all, so it’s really nice to know that the lengths that we go to meet the children’s needs is recognised.
Joe Gaywood – Children’s Advocate
It was a surprise to be nominated, so when I was told I had won it was a really pleasant and even bigger surprise! The fact that I was chosen by young people makes it quite special and even more gratifying. As social workers, we try our hardest to make any small difference to make things better for children; when this is recognised by the children we support, it’s so very powerful.
I won the award of children’s advocate, which is what I signed up to be. Winning this award says to me that I am on the right path; I am trying be the advocate that I needed at that age. I am grateful to my manager for recognising my work and nominating me, but the ultimate reward is being chosen by the young people.
Do you know someone in Children’s Social Care who deserves an Honour? Find out how to nominate them for an award.