‘A culture of high support and kindness’: Inspectors’ verdict on children’s trust

A celebratory event for children and young people organized by Northamptonshire Children’s Trust

‘Kindness’ is not a term you associate with an Ofsted Children’s Services inspection report. But that’s how inspectors described workplace culture at the Northamptonshire Children’s Trust (NCT), in twin reports published this week on the services it runs in North and West Northamptonshire councils .

The comprehensive inspection, in October, was the first for the trust since it took over responsibility for what were then deemed inadequate childcare services from the former Northamptonshire County Council two years ago.

That rating is no more, child services in the two unitary authorities ‘now need improvement to be good’.

Improvements in social work practices

Inspectors found ‘improvements in the quality and impact of social work practice’ across the service, resulting in ‘much better support’ for children in need of help and protection and enhanced early support.

Children in care had “a trusted adult with whom they can share their concerns and aspirations” among their social workers, while adopters had the support of “passionate, knowledgeable and knowledgeable” practitioners.

Caseloads for social workers were down, vacancies had “significantly decreased”, while practitioner development was “highly valued and supported”, through the NCT social work academy.

“A culture of caring”

At the root of these changes were the culture inspectors identified at the NCT.

“Senior managers devote a lot of attention and effort to visibly support staff and ensure a common vision for improving services for children and young people,” the inspection reports say. “Social workers are overwhelmingly positive about working…for NCT, which reflects a significant culture shift to a culture of support and kindness.”

NCT General Manager Colin Foster said the judgment fills him with immense pride.

“It was comments from social workers,” he says. “They feel well supported. There is a culture that “if you are concerned about something, you can say it, if you want to share good practices, do it”.

“We have an awesome practice email address, and we share it with others. It’s a culture of finding what’s right, rather than what’s wrong.

Protecting social workers Sophie Fisher and Heather Gwinnutt say they see and experience this kindness in their daily work.

“Everyone wants everyone to succeed”

Sophie, senior social worker, says: “Everyone wants everyone to be successful and successful. This is what you need.

“Everyone is lovely,” adds Heather. “We come to do this work to do our best for the children and Northants because a trust is really great at promoting this. It’s not a job you get paid for, it’s a job to help children and families be their best.

Echoing Ofsted, both praise the role of Colin and the management team in promoting this culture.

“There’s a lot of confidence in Colin and what he wants for confidence,” says Heather. “We are all hopeful that things will continue to improve under him.”

“He’s approachable and down-to-earth,” says Sophie. “I really appreciate his e-mails about dogs, and [his approach] brings light relief to a really stressful job.

Accessible and responsive leadership

For both, a key positive is their ability to raise issues with the management team and act on them.

Sophie says: “Previously, when we asked for a strategy discussion, the form was huge and a lot of it could be repetitive. We brought this to a meeting [with the leadership team] and adaptations have been made to make it concise and relevant. It’s those little things that make our job a little easier.

Heather adds, “For me, I believe that if I have a problem, I know I can talk to managers and senior executives and it won’t be dismissed, it will be heard. When you face daily challenges, knowing that you will be heard is great. For example, we told Colin that we needed new chairs and we have new chairs. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the big difference. »

Heather previously worked for the county council, then left the trust in March 2021, shortly after it was set up, before returning in February this year. The reason, she says, was that the stability she had enjoyed in Northamptonshire lacked the authority she had joined.

“I was very lucky in Northamptonshire,” she says. “I had a stable management team. It was the draw for me to come back,” she said. “Management is consistent and you trust their decisions.”

Promote career development

Sophie, who has recently been promoted to a senior position, also cites the trust’s positive approach to career development.

While a number of practitioners were encouraged to take higher positions last year, she did not feel ready at that time, so her then-director helped her learn the skills she needed. needed.

“At that time, they put me in touch with a newly qualified social worker from our team,” she says. “By the time it came on in the summer, I felt more confident and had the skills to take on the lead role. Trust is really about keeping people.

Heather agrees, adding: “Now there is this mantra that we want you to be here and develop and build your career in Northamptonshire. That’s another reason I came back, there’s career progression for me.

She has also seen improvements in supervision since her return, underpinned by the strengths-based safety signs practice model the trust uses.

“Supervision takes place every four weeks,” she says. ” It’s in the newspaper. It’s just the norm. We focus a lot more on what we’re trying to get out of it, rather than just a case discussion.

This was echoed by Ofsted, who cited the ‘widespread use of the strengths-based practice model’ and the ‘strengths-based quality assurance framework’ as areas for improvement.

Making a difference for children and families

And children and families see the difference, adds Heather.

“In general, families are starting to understand that we want to focus on their strengths rather than what worries us,” she says. “It motivates them to make changes.”

As an example, she adds: “I recently had a family where the youngster has very difficult behaviors and he was taken care of for a while. Thus, we were able to set up a multi-systemic therapy by examining the strengths of the family and the relationship between the mother and the child and the rest of the family. Thanks to these networks, we were able to bring the child home and things are going very well. Without it, it is likely that it would have remained supported.

Despite the many positives in Ofsted’s reports, they identified areas for improvement, particularly in relation to certain aspects of management oversight and the way caseworkers use direct work to check on points of view of children, and work on life stories to help children in care understand their story.

Colin adds: “We know very well what we need to improve and we have a plan in place.

He says he wants to hear from anyone interested in joining the trust or returning to Northamptonshire after a period of absence.

“If you would like to find out more and have a casual chat please feel free to DM me on Twitter @colinjfoster or email [email protected] and I will arrange to call you” , he adds.

Learn more about working at Northamptonshire Children’s Trust by consulting their employer profile. You can also see the latest job vacancies here.

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