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Ahead of next week’s exciting Child Sexual Exploitation training and networking seminar which has been sponsored by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, we hear from Director of Children and Families at Sandwell Council Vince Clark who discusses the future opportunities and challenges ahead of the formation of the new Sandwell Children’s Trust.

Children’s services in the Sandwell area of Birmingham are about to embark on a whole new era with the creation of Sandwell Children’s Trust from April 2018. With recruitment of more social workers, investment in staff, equipment and training and a new forward-looking strategy, Director of Children and Families Vince Clark outlines the challenges, opportunities and what the future holds for children’s social work in the area for social workers and the clients they work with.

What are the benefits of working in the Sandwell area?

The area borders Birmingham with all the facilities that go with that. In terms of working in Sandwell, the unique selling point is the move towards Sandwell Children’s Trust from April, which means anyone joining us will be working for an organisation with the sole purpose of delivering children’s social work. There is now a real focus at a political and senior leadership level to invest heavily into the service by putting extra resources, commitment and support and a time when other local authorities are pulling investment back. We know that we have a lot to do, as the forthcoming Ofsted publication confirms, but we are now getting recognition and acknowledgement that we are firmly on the right track.

Can you outline the opportunities within the field of child social care in Sandwell?

We are on the cusp of a lot of change and innovation and being part of the Sandwell Children’s Trust means there will be great opportunities for anyone working in the organisation over the coming years. As we progress, that will be across the complete range of children’s social work from working at the front door, the MASH (Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub) and assessment teams, right into service managers, child protection work, working for looked-after children, working as part of regional adoption agency, and expanding our own in-house fostering service. Sandwell is very much a multi-cultural community, so you will get the chance and opportunities to work with different cultures and religions. As part of the new Trust arrangements we will be expanding our social worker and team manager staff groups in order to meet our priority of reducing caseloads to manageable levels.

As we enter 2018, what are the priorities?

We want to create an environment for good social work practice. Our primary focus is to increase the number of social workers coming into the service and we have received extra funding from the Council to increase our baseline number of frontline social workers. This will enable us to meet our second priority of reducing caseloads to manageable levels. We have set a target for average caseloads for our social workers of 18.

With pay packages commensurate with experience, it is also about ensuring social workers receive dedicated support from their managers, regular supervision, good training and the right IT kit and working environment that makes them feel valued. Initial feedback from Ofsted indicated newly-qualified staff have good induction and training programmes, and their caseloads are properly managed and staff morale is good. Staff are recognising that senior manager and political commitment is there to bring extra resources in to make sure the service is fit for purpose.

What are the challenges?

Sandwell is the 11th most deprived local authority of the 152 in the country with nearly 80,000 children and young people under 18. A quarter of those live in poverty. Straight away you can see some of the challenges we face on a day to day basis We recognise we are coming from a position of inadequacy and part of that was because we weren’t reaching all of the vulnerable children and young people we should have done. Working in Sandwell means that you will be working in a deprived inner-city environment. That work is not for everyone but if you want to make a difference to some of the most deprived and vulnerable children in our society then come and work with us to make their lives better.

The service received an inadequate Ofsted rating in 2016 – how have you moved forward from that?

We have a clear vision and plan for our improvement journey. The first part of that journey is the move into the Sandwell Children’s Trust. We also have a very clear improvement plan – which will be implemented over the next couple of years - built around sound social work practice; ensuring we engage children and young people; ensuring our interventions are timely; and ensuring the vulnerable children and young people we work with get a strong, positive response from the service in a multi-agency way. What people will see from our Ofsted inspection when it is published is a real trajectory of sustainable improvement

Where have been the big steps and improvements?

Our Targeted Services which offer early help through our community teams are a great example of what we can do when we get it right. They offer a wide range of early help services in each of the six towns within Sandwell. We have improved our front door services, so that is the MASH and the single assessment teams and have expanded those teams and put more resource in. Ofsted have told us that our thresholds are now right, and we have agreed these with our key partner agencies. We have started to make inroads into a multi-agency work, with good strong working relationships with some of our partners, particularly the police, schools and health. We have seen a significant increase in supervision and management support across the service; all our staff now receive regular monthly supervision. All our polices and procedure and guidance have been reviewed and updated and we work very closely with Research and Practice and Community Care Informs, so staff get access to all their research materials and online support and training.

How will the new Sandwell Children’s Trust improve services?

The Sandwell Children’s Trust will ensure that children’s social work gets the right resources and support in the coming years. Jacqui Smith has been appointed as our Trust Chair and we have recently appointed an experienced DCS, Francis Craven, as our new CEO. This means that we are all ready to go-live early in 2018. All of the current staff working in Children’s Social Care will be moving across into the Trust. The most important thing is the Trust’s primary concern will be to deliver good social work services to vulnerable children and young people in the Sandwell area.

Apply today! If you would like to work for Sandwell then why not find out more about the latest vacancies, give us a call on 0333 7000 026

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