Barnsley's Hub: where children’s social work flourishes

By Carly Speechley | 19 December 2023

We’re proud to be MJ Local Authority of the Year, and this achievement is something we hope will help us in our ambition to recruit and retain the best children’s social workers to make Barnsley the place of possibilities for future generations.

This is more important now than ever, as we’ve seen the national sector facing workforce shortages alongside increasing demands, with referrals at pre-pandemic levels and increasingly complex caseloads.

We’re incredibly ambitious here in Barnsley, and our dedicated Practice Development Hub, which was created in November 2022 is already showing great results.

In our recent ‘Good’ rating from Ofsted for our Children’s Services, Inspectors highlighted the great work taking place via the Hub, noting that our staff benefit from a bespoke and thoughtfully commissioned array of training and resources to help improve practice.

The Practice Development Hub consists of a team of experienced practitioners who support staff across Children’s Services. The team works across the Children’s Services workforce to provide a bespoke service and we tailor our support and training to the needs of the service, to the needs of the workers and to the needs of the families. Alongside a rolling ‘back to basics’ training offer, which provides the foundations to best practice, we have a comprehensive training offer, which has been developed based on feedback from workers, teams and families and learning from audit.

The Hub has recently launched its ‘Academy’ offer; a bespoke and tailored offer to our students and newly qualified social workers, offering robust induction, a specially designed training programme and support and mentoring throughout student placements and social workers first year in practice.

The Academy also offers a dedicated programme to supporting experienced social workers take the next steps into mentoring and supporting others. The learning and development offer from the Practice Development Hub is tailored to support career progression from the very start of the journey with Barnsley through to roles in the leadership team -  if that’s your aspiration of course!

The benefit of having the Practice Development Hub in Barnsley is that we can share the wealth of experience that to support workers to develop their practice, ranging from discussion with cases, offering peer support, or discussing ideas and different approaches. Having that extra support and backup and people that know different things is helpful in making a difference to how practitioners work with families.

The Hub is reflective of the commitment of leadership to provide the best environment and support the workforce to undertake their roles, improving outcomes for children and their families. Our children’s social workers really benefit from this supportive, friendly environment. Senior management is always on hand, we make ourselves accessible, and make it clear that there’s never a daft question, and never a question that somebody else can’t answer.

Our borough’s families are benefitting too – we’re instilling our social workers with the confidence they need to deal with the more complex situations, and this extra guidance means that they can think and practice creatively to engage families and support positive changes.

The great thing about working in Barnsley is that there’s a huge variety of roles and lots of opportunities to make a massive difference in the lives of our families. We have 300 social workers across Children’s Services, as well as a range of other practitioner and management roles, from childcare to youth work.

This means we are able to offer our families the support they need to go forward and empower them in their own lives.

We’re creating an environment where really good practice can flourish, in what can be a hard and challenging role. We als0 offer benefits such as flexible working arrangements so that our staff can deal with things going on in their own lives and work accordingly to that.

We look after our staff, and in a career that can often create emotional stress, they have access to free mental health counselling, should they want it.

We’re really committed to our staff and to staff development. The Practice Development Hub provides a nurturing environment which allows us to support staff right the way through their career.

Carly Speechley is executive director, Children’s Service, Barnsley MBC.

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Childrens services Social workers Ofsted Council staff