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Grow your own

As I sit down to write this blog the ADCS Annual Conference 2019 has just finished. If you didn’t get a chance to catch Rachel Dickinson’s amazing speech or attend all of the conference sessions you can catch up on them, here. There were so many interesting ideas and experiences shared, and it was a great chance to network with colleagues from across the country to discuss the issues we are all grappling with. Given the inspirational work happening across the sector, I almost hesitate to say that what we are doing in Nottingham deserves any special attention but…here goes…we have a really great ‘grow our own’ (GOO) social worker initiative.

Those of you who know me will know that I am that person who says, “my dinner’s great, would you like a taste”, and you hesitate, in case I ask for a bit of yours. Well – this is a gift, no exchange required!

Nottingham’s GOO programme is our own design; built on a leap of faith and our fantastic partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). It aims to encourage new social workers to work for our local authority. I really believe that GOO offers many answers to our workforce challenges in social care. If you value life-experienced, emotionally intelligent, hard-working and committed folk, who would not be able to afford to pursue their dream career without a little help - then GOO could be part of your solution to the challenges of recruiting the next generation of social workers too.

Over six years ago we ended our in-house social work sponsored training scheme. Our unions, councillors and colleagues wanted options to replace it as did I. The task I set colleagues was to develop a service specification, based on the premise that we could support a range of our staff who want to qualify as social workers. We needed a locally delivered course that:

a. was part time (max three days a month directly taught)

b. could take account of prior experiential learning to reduce the overall length of study

c. was affordable as applicants would need to self-fund

d. could be cost neutral to the council, as we did not plan to backfill posts whilst staff were on placement.

Clearly, this was a lot to ask…but there are choices to be made and you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. During 2016, my hard-working, dedicated team not only took the ingredients and made dinner; they delivered a Michelin starred banquet.

As a result, we now have a locally delivered social work degree based on an average two days direct teaching a month (with some days delivered in blocks of study where immersion is needed). A staggered placement window helps us manage without backfill in the main. A career loan helps our staff pay for their studies, repaid in the long term.

It was still a leap of faith for all concerned - MMU, for our services who were releasing colleagues with no back-fill (including Family Support, Play & Youth, Youth Justice, Business Support and Children’s Residential) and for the colleagues signing up for the programme.

For our first cohort starting in April 2017, Derbyshire joined us taking up four places and Nottingham City filled 18 children’s and four adults places. Our students graduated this summer, achieving solid degrees and a number of First Class degrees (one colleague even achieved the Highest Academic Achievement Award for MMU). We have 18 new children’s social workers who believe in themselves and in Nottingham City Council. With great local managers, an innovative partnership with MMU, the support of councillors and tremendous effort from our students, we have proven that our collective leap of faith was worth it.

Celebrating their success with our Leader, Councillor David Mellen, one of our graduates told me; “this was hard work but it’s changed my life. I could never have afforded to do this without Nottingham City’s help and I can now help change other people’s lives”.

Our graduates are local, from diverse backgrounds and are committed to making a difference to the lives of people living in Nottingham. Cohort Two has started (they graduate in 2020) and Cohort Three has been commissioned, with others in our region joining us again. I can’t recommend GOO enough!

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