There is a waiting list for Northumberland’s academy for social workers, a real plus in a sector where staff recruitment and retention are a constant battle.
Eight social workers are about to graduate – while another eight are lined up to start after them – from the county council’s AYSE (Assessed and Supported Year in Employment) Academy, which is the only one of its kind in the North East.
It means that newly-qualified social workers have plenty of support and their caseloads are managed to prevent them from being overwhelmed when they are just starting out on their careers.
Coun Deirdre Campbell emphasised what a hard, challenging job being a social worker is, adding: “I have to say what you are doing to retain them is wonderful and we have to be trying to make sure that we are better than other local authorities. We should roll the red carpet out for them in my opinion.”
Coun Wayne Daley, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “They really value the fact that we value them.”
This was one of the positives highlighted as members of the family and children’s services committee discussed the authority’s annual self-assessment of its children’s social care at their meeting today (Monday, February 11).
The self-assessment is subject to a regional challenge session involving directors of children’s services from two other local authorities before being submitted to Ofsted.
Executive director Cath McEvoy-Carr told the meeting that Northumberland’s children’s services is expecting a focused visit from Ofsted this year ahead of its next full inspection of children’s services. It was rated as requiring improvement back in 2016.
She explained that, aside from the social-work academy, strengths in the self-assessment included the political and chief executive’s backing for children’s services, the stabilisation of the workforce in some key areas, the creation of the MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) and the fact that the department has been subject to a number of external and internal reviews.
However, there are still issues around variability, with a need for more consistency, and managing demand, while the plans for children in care or who require support need to be improved.
“We know what we want to achieve for the child, it’s just setting out how we are going to do it,” Mrs McEvoy-Carr said.
The three key priorities going forward are around family-focused practice, workforce development and making sure children get the right service at the right time from the right people.
The self-assessment process is supported by an improvement plan, which is being finalised now and will be presented to councillors at a later date.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service