Introduction and background
The BASW NI Mentoring Service is being offered in response to the challenges faced throughout 2020 by both newly qualified and established social workers. The scheme was initially considered in April 2020 when social workers were dealing with significant challenges to their ‘usual’ frontline practice and when the full impact of restrictions related to Covid-19 were being felt by individuals and in the workforce in general.
Since then, BASW have launched the online Professional Support Service (PSS) for BASW members, which aims to support the wellbeing and address practice concerns of social workers throughout Covid-19. The Professional Support Service is delivered by social workers who are also trained volunteer coaches and is available to members based anywhere throughout the UK.
Following consultation with BASW staff and members, it was agreed that there was still a need and desire for a supplementary local support service with a particular focus on the situations being faced by social workers in Northern Ireland. These include, for example, social workers who have qualified earlier than expected to take up social work roles, social workers who have returned to practice after extended absence and social workers who are transitioning into their first management roles in this changing context. The current format for the Northern Ireland Mentoring Service has been developed to help meet this local need. This has been done with full acknowledgement that social workers are facing many other challenges on a daily basis and with the expectation they can access appropriate support for these challenges via the Professional Support Service.
There is a similar mentoring scheme based in England which is also distinctive to the Professional Support Service and is currently aimed primarily at NQSWs, social workers joining the England workforce from abroad and social workers returning to practice after career breaks. Information about this service has helped inform the Northern Ireland service.
Thanks are due to BASW staff and members, based in both Northern Ireland and England, who contributed to the development of this service. In particular, thanks are due to those local Independent members who volunteered their time earlier in 2020 to help support of their peers and colleagues and to the staff team who have kept them informed and included since then.
It is important to note that the BASW NI Mentoring Service is in addition to, and independent of, normal work based supervision and management arrangements. The service does not replace those, nor is it intended to infringe upon them and all case based discussion must take place with the appropriate management structures.
The purpose of the BASW NI Mentoring Scheme is to provide an independent, confidential listening and support space for BASW NI members so they can build confidence, take better control of the issues that are affecting them on a day-to-day basis and become more motivated and effective in their roles.
This will be achieved by matching members with volunteer mentors who are experienced social workers registered as Independent members of BASW. In the first instance, this service will be aimed at social workers currently in AYE, including those who qualified earlier than expected, social workers who have returned to practice after extended absence and social workers transitioning into their first management roles.
To provide BASW NI members access to:
- a safe and confidential space where they can vent and offload in relation to issues affecting them negatively on a day-to-day basis
- an experienced Independent Social Worker who can share helpful information and support reflective discussions
- opportunities to explore alternative perspectives in relation to difficult practice issues
- time out from daily workload to help support self-care practices
- all mentors and mentees are bound by BASW Code of Ethics
- mentors and mentees are peers and are expected to develop the mentoring relationship based on mutual trust and respect
- the mentoring relationship is a subjective one and successful mentoring will depend on both mentor and mentee engaging positively with each other and with a solution focused approach
- the mentoring service is intended to be informal, easy to access and straightforward to deliver, while at the same time remaining safe, effective and professional
- administrative and recording processes are necessary to ensure the safe and effective delivery of the service, however these will be kept to a minimum and will be as simple and time-effective as possible
- the mentor will use their professional judgement to provide the appropriate support for the mentee, including, for example, listening, clarifying, challenging, encouraging, reflecting, motivating and educating
- the mentee will engage with the mentoring relationship honestly and with an understanding of the limitations of support in terms of time and scope. The mentee can expect to be listened to and supported throughout the service. They will also take responsibility for applying any learning in an appropriate and professional way, and with an understanding they will not discuss specific details of any individual or case.
- self-care is an important element of all social work practice. All mentors and mentees are encouraged to draw on the wide range of BASW and NISCC resources in order to develop their own self-care practices, in addition to their own supports outside of the BASW system
What is mentoring?
There are numerous definitions and approaches to mentoring, most of which are valid and applicable. However, for the purposes of the NI Mentoring Scheme, the following HSCB definitions and statements, or at least elements of them, are perhaps most useful to help both mentor and mentee to develop a shared understanding of their mutual mentoring relationship:
- “The definition … most suitable for social work is….’…help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking’”1
- “Mentoring is generally conceptualised as a learning process in which helpful, personal, and reciprocal relationships are built and mentees learn and develop through conversations with more experienced mentors.” 2
- “The activities involved in mentoring are summed up in a mneumonic devised by Taherian and Shekarchian (2008)….:
- Empower and Encourage
- Nurture self-confidence
- Teach by example
- Offer wise counsel
- Raise the performance bar” 3
Further, the same HSCB review of coaching and mentoring states that “The evidence suggests that mentoring is likely to increase emotional resilience, job retention, minority integration, role confidence, reduce isolation and enhance the application of evidence and knowledge as well as to aid the ‘passing on of practice wisdom.” 4 Based on this, the introduction of this local mentoring scheme can only be a positive development!
Limitations of the service
Every effort will be made to ensure members receive the right support at the right time and by the most appropriate person. However, given that mentors are volunteering their time alongside their Independent roles and their own personal circumstances, as well as the limited availability of the BASW NI staff team who mostly work on a part time basis, there are unavoidable limitations to this service, some of which are noted below:
- support will be provided via online video platforms and/or by phone, not in person
- each support session will last a maximum of 1 hour
- members will be offered a maximum of 3 support sessions in any 3 month period, unless in exceptional circumstances and agreed via the BASW NI mentoring service coordinator. Any future requests will only be considered one month following the last support session
- members who re-apply for support may not be matched to their previous mentor, although that can be requested
- the matching process will endeavour to match mentees with the most suitable mentor according to detail provided on the application form, although it will not always be possible to meet specific requests
In addition to accessing the mentoring service when needed, members are encouraged to access and avail of other resources and supports, within their own workplace systems, BASW, online via the NISCC website and via their own support networks.
Referral and matching process
Information provided on the mentor and/or mentee application forms will not be used for any purpose other than to match mentor with mentee as appropriately as possible.
- The matching process to connect a mentee with a mentor is an important aspect of this scheme. All mentors have a wealth of experience and are volunteering their time as they understand the pressures social workers are facing. BASW NI will endeavour to take into specific mentee needs and preferences into account for a mentor-mentee match (for example gender, ethnicity etc). Where possible a mentee will be matched with a mentor who has experience similar to the mentee and/or with the skills best suited to the situation outlined on the mentee application form. However this will not always be possible and will be dependent on the availability and commitment of each of the cohort of mentors at any given time.
- After a mentee has been matched with a mentor, the mentor will contact the mentee to will be asked to read and sign the mentor-mentee agreement. The signed agreement will be submitted to the mentoring service coordinator by the mentor prior to the first session taking place
- Mentors will provide up to a maximum of 3 sessions of x1 hour each per mentee. Any extension to this will only be in exceptional circumstances and must be agreed in advance with the BASW mentoring service coordinator.
- Recording will be minimal, with a brief record completed by the mentor following each session, indicating sessions have taken place, indicating whether both parties are satisfied the session has met its purpose, and noting if any concerns have been raised that need followed up. This record should only take a few minutes to complete.
- The service coordinator will send a link to an online survey to both the mentor and mentee after the final support session requesting basic feedback. The survey should take less than 5 minutes to complete.
- A fresh referral for additional support can be made by any member from one month after the first relationship has concluded, with no obligation or expectation that they will be matched with the same mentor
Administrative and safeguarding issues
- The scheme will be overseen and coordinated by a member of the BASW NI Team who can be contacted with queries about the referral or matching process, noting that most members work on a part time basis and may not be available for an immediate response
- The expectation for this mentoring service is that most issues of concern and/or complaint can be dealt with informally and resolved between mentor and mentee. If this cannot happen, the BASW mentoring service coordinator should be informed as soon as practicably possible by either mentor or mentee, or both depending on the situation
- If any situation requires immediate attention in relation to safeguarding issues, the mentor should refer the member back to their supervision and line management structure
- Where the mentor has any concerns regarding the safety and well-being of the mentee, or any person considered to be vulnerable, they have a duty to report such concerns to the relevant person/s, with the mentee’s knowledge. This may include, for example, the mentee’s employer, BASW NI or NISCC.
- In the case of immediate risk of harm to the mentee themselves they should be referred immediately to the appropriate professionals (eg GP, PSNI etc). If necessary, the mentor should make contact on the mentee’s behalf and with their knowledge
- Following any session where significant concerns have been raised, a ‘Record of concern’ form should be completed by the mentor and submitted to the mentoring service coordinator. The mentor will use their professional judgement in deciding what is deemed to be a ‘significant’ concern.
Self-care and additional resources
Both the mentor and mentee are encouraged to take responsibility for their own self-care while engaging in the mentoring service. The mentoring service coordinator is available to provide informal support to mentors, and both mentors and mentees are encouraged access and avail of other resources and online supports via this website, via the NISCC website, and via their own support networks.
In particular, members are encouraged to access the BASW/SWU Good Practice Toolkit, which contains a lot of very helpful tips, guidance and information related to individual and organisational self-care5, as well as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) BASW updates section on the website6 which contains a range of useful resources.
Further resources have also been made available in partnership between the Public Health Agency, Department of Health, Department of Communities, Healthy Living Centre Alliance and 15 local mental health and wellbeing charities, including free Self Help programmes.7
In due course, as part of the ongoing review for the service, there is also the possibility of developing a peer support forum for mentors.