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BASW Cymru awards showcase outstanding social work practice

A North Wales social worker responsible for an initiative enabling social workers to make consistent judgements about the risk present in child protection cases was among those honoured in the 2013 BASW Cymru Social Work Awards.

Gwynedd Council’s Dafydd Paul, whose model has been rolled out by a number of local authorities in Wales and England, was presented with the Innovative Social Work Award for his efforts.

A similar award was presented to Eleri Harries for her creativity in developing the concept of a Child Appreciation Day. In her role with the West Wales Adoption Service, Ms Harries enabled prospective adopters to attend a whole day session where they could hear first hand from professionals and birth relatives about the experiences that have brought a child to their current circumstances.

Daniel O’Grady, a Practice Facilitator for Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council, received the Practice Teacher Award, for the effectiveness with which he has helped new and prospective social workers into the profession – one of his trainees said he had “helped me to develop the confidence to explore working with children and families”.

One award was given posthumously, following the sad death of Paul Jones in May this year. Until taking early retirement due to his increasing ill-health, Paul was a social worker, team leader and practice assessor for Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council. Paul was an extremely popular figure with his colleagues for his “commitment and enthusiasm for quality in service provision”.

One testimonial read: “Those who knew Paul through work will have been touched in some way by his values. His ability to do what was right, not really by any law or guidance, but based on his faith in humanity and the ability of people to progress and change. Paul loved people, he loved the community he lived and he loved his job. ”

Paul’s son, Jamie Jones, was presented with his Spirit of Social Work Award on his behalf.

Neeta Baicher landed the Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to social work, in a variety of posts with major charities and in her private capacity working with Asian minority communities across South Wales.  Formerly with Barnardo’s, Action for Children, and the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, Ms Baicher runs a women’s self-help group in a multi-cultural community, educating mothers in parenting skills.

She qualified as a social worker in the early 1990s while working at Barnardo’s as a Project Development Community Worker in a multicultural resource centre, developing educational activities for people of all ages but notably aimed at empowering women.

Neeta is also a Justice of the Peace and active member of BASW Cymru’s Committee.

The Social Work Team Award went to Conwy Transition Team for its work in ensuring children with disabilities make a smooth transition to adulthood. This intervention starts at the year 8 school review and carries on until the parent and child agree that the service is no longer required after their eighteenth birthday. Just before they turn 18, a Community Care Assessment and care plan is agreed, outlining the services needed they will need into adulthood.

One parent praised the team’s innovation of coffee mornings for parents of disabled teenagers who otherwise do not get to meet because they typically go to school by taxi.

One young person who has benefitted from the team’s work said: “I was worried about what would change when I was 18. My transition worker helped me to find out what would change and what would be the same. I can make choices now that I am an adult and my transition worker is on my side.“

The Conwy team consists of Aloma Jones, Donna Thomas, Jessica Longden, Sian Phillips, Alex Fryer and Barry Walkden.

 

Behind the success 
Innovative Social Work Award winner Dafydd Paul said he was prompted to develop a tool to help social workers in assessing significant harm and risk for children by the findings of Professor Eileen Munro’s 2011 report on the barriers to good child protection practice.

“When Professor Munro recommended social workers needed to be judged not by outcomes but by quality and consistency of decision making we focused on creating a framework for assisting social workers in making better, more consistent decisions in the area of the threshold of significant harm – the statutory threshold for involvement in family lives.

“The tool works by breaking down the decision making into steps to enable that consistency. Then, in terms of deploying it on the frontline, you need to train, support, coach and mentor social workers so that when they face real life scenarios they can reflect on the criteria and the things they’ve considered in training and mentoring situations in reaching the right decision.

“Without this sort of approach, you could have a notional room full of social workers and managers in which you try to focus on what people’s mutual understanding is of the threshold of significant harm and find a lot of variation in people’s decisions. It’s about reducing variation.

“On paper making decisions about risk should be very doable but in real life situations it is much harder. This is a pragmatic approach to the dilemmas social workers face.”

The model is now being used by a number of local authorities in England and Wales, with interest also emerging recently in exporting the model to New Zealand.

The other Innovative Social Work Award winner Eleri Harries said her Child Appreciation Day was “about making sure prospective adopters have as comprehensive picture of a child as they can”.

She said the day could feature as many as 12-15 contributors, each given specific slots in which they explain their involvement with the child about to be adopted and give the would-be adopters as full an insight as possible into the child they will soon be parenting.

Describing the challenge involved, Ms Harries said: “It is about managing the day and making sure people are open and honest.

“It is also about getting adopters into a person’s experiences of when they were with the child, such as when they were in a foster placement for example – giving them access to things a court report won’t include: sounds, smells, anything that might trigger behaviours in a child.

“It is equipping the parents with a holistic picture – maybe Mum used to wear that sort of perfume, or this sort of colour. Your job as an adoption social worker now is to track down that sort of information. We move on in our practice. What you don't want to do is compound the trauma a child has been through; instead you want to open their eyes in terms of what they are taking on board.”

Practice Teacher  Award winner Daniel O’Grady urged those responsible for supporting trainee social workers in qualifying not to forget issues beyond the assessment framework. “In practice assessing sometimes there is a tendency for new practice assessors to focus on the assessment to the detriment of the nurturing and development of the person They have to be assessed against national standards and it’s easy to become focused on that without considering what they are learning. It’s a question of remembering the balance between practice and assessment.”

A practice educator since 2000, Mr O’Grady said he had detected a shift in the attitude of new entrants to the social work profession. “There is a younger group coming through since the degree came into effect.

“I still think in the main people come through for the right reasons and there is a level of passion to change the world somehow or another. My sense is that those coming through have more confidence in connecting theory to practice. It may be because it’s now a degree rather than a diploma and that the people coming on to the degree will have certain level of confidence in producing academic work.”