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Social work achievements honoured in major Northern Ireland awards event

Residential care outreach team leader Layne Walker has won Northern Ireland social work’s major individual award for outstanding achievement after showing “passion, energy and commitment” in his role.

Layne received the accolade at the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW – part of BASW) Awards event in Stormont from health minister Michael McGimpsey, having been nominated by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust for demonstrating leadership which had transformed the lives of young people.

Having quickly established the outreach team following his appointment in 2006, Layne was called in last year as a troubleshooter to calm down a trust residential unit in which the young people’s behaviour was “out of control”. Three of the unit’s managers had gone on sick leave and there was no one with the skill or experience to manage the situation.

According to his boss, social work services manager David Gillen, Mr Layne “quickly established a sense of confidence and cohesion with the staff group” and brought a “sense of order and calm to the unit”. Staff whose morale had been at a “very low ebb” were now able to engage more effectively with the young people.

Throughout this period Layne continued to manage the outreach team, supporting young people in residential care, preventing their admission into care and giving intensive support to children in troubled foster care placements.

Testimonials from residential social workers and the young people themselves had a big influence on the judges. “We were in the depths of despair and he brought hope and light,” one social worker said, while another described him as a “bright shining star giving direction when we were lost.” A young person in care thanked Layne for what he had done for his family: “It seems a good time to express my appreciation for the huge role you and your team played in helping us to get to this point.”

In the nomination Mr Gillen wrote that colleagues and young people themselves had been struck by Layne’s “passion, energy and commitment to making a difference to our young people and their families. His integrity and ability to think ‘out of the box’ in situations where problems are concerned is remarkable.”

NIASW Awards – Outstanding Team/Service Award

A ground-breaking sensory support team from the south-east of Northern Ireland has taken one of the top honours in this year’s NIASW Awards.

Team leaders Clare McStay and Roisin O’Neill collected the team/service award for outstanding achievement from health minister Michael McGimpsey on behalf of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust Sensory Support Service.

In nominating the service, Trust manager Gordon Moore said it deserved recognition for “competence, integrity and innovation”. Delegates attending the awards event at the Long Room, Stormont, on the edge of Belfast, heard that both team leaders had provided the leadership necessary to drive wide-ranging reform and modernisation of the service.

“The themes of empowerment, partnership working, training, development and promotion of health and well-being have been translated into actions and can be measured in service improvements,” Moore wrote in the nomination.

The Sensory Support Service comprises two teams covering children and adults who have visual or hearing impairments and who are based in the Downpatrick, Lisburn and Newtownards areas. It is unique in being a generic service which covers the entire Trust area.

Among the key achievements highlighted in the nomination were:

· Implementation of the International Standards Framework for promoting equality and consistency across the service;

· Promotion of health and well-being among service users, including walking groups for people with a visual impairment, a ‘cook it’ programme for deaf people, and DVDs to reduce stress and panic;

· Partnership working with key stakeholders, including the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and Royal National Institute for the Blind;

· Training and development have been promoted as priorities;

· Guidelines on providing equipment now ensure equitable across the service as a whole.

“This approach to service improvement has provided staff with an ownership of the service,” Mr Moore wrote. “It ensures that communication is open and consultative while emphasising individual and team accountability.”

NIASW Awards – Lifetime Achievement Awards

Lifetime Achievement Awards were given to three of Northern Ireland’s longest-serving and most distinguished social workers in a unique 40th anniversary celebration of the founding of BASW in 1970.

In the first example of NIASW’s awards marking lifetime achievements, Greg Kelly, Stephanie Irwin and Faith Gibson were all honoured for making a powerful impact on social work in careers of single-minded dedication. All of them had joined BASW Northern Ireland – now NIASW – in its infancy.

Greg spent his career at Queen’s University Belfast until he retired in September last year. He was heavily involved in setting up BASW in Northern Ireland and as an expert in adoption and fostering he was also responsible for establishing the British Association of Adoption and Fostering in the province. He obtained his PhD in July 2009, shortly before his retirement, and many of Northern Ireland’s social workers were taught by him.

Stephanie Irwin also played a key role in training, this time for social work and social care staff in the Northern Board area from the mid-1970s until she left in 1994, having risen to become social services director. As a woman in senior management, she was often alone among a group of males but she was a strong and influential manager in her field. More recently she has been noted for her leadership of post-qualifying training.

Faith Gibson is emeritus professor of social work at the University of Ulster. An Australian, she was a professor of social work in Sydney before coming to Britain in the 1960s and then Northern Ireland in the late 1970s. She is founder member and president of Reminiscences Network Northern Ireland, in which she is still very actively involved, and from her arrival until the mid-1990s she was part of the professional training school at the University of Ulster’s Magee Campus.

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