West Essex - A learning environment where innovative practice flourishes - Working for Essex

West Essex – A learning environment where innovative practice flourishes

Recently Essex County Council was named ‘Best Employer’ at the Social Worker of the Year Awards 2021 for the second time in three years. Along with this, we have been rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted for our Children’s Services.

For this year’s employer of the year category, judges found that: “Essex demonstrated a real commitment to deliver a typically high level of service its communities and, crucially, to support and nurture its staff and their continued development”.

This is very much the experience of staff working in West Essex – one of four quadrants across the county in which services are organised.

Essex is an outstanding authority and a leader in practice improvement.

Michelle Hayden-Pepper, Director for Local Delivery in Children’s Services, West Essex

In West caseloads are manageable, they are under 15 children in [long-term] family support and protection teams. A caseload that allows innovative practice to flourish.

Children and families service manager Bianka Lang, who is responsible for the family support and protection teams, family time and support service and family centre in the quadrant, says: “The quality of practice is high because we are a learning workspace and we really understand reflective practice, from senior level to newly qualified.”

A learning environment

Service manager for assessment and intervention and children and young people with disabilities Kiran Box says: “We encourage shared learning and if someone has a particular area of interest, they will do a presentation for colleagues and share their learning. For example, there was one recently on inclusion of father in social work assessments”.

Monthly management supervision with staff who are encouraged to identify areas of practice they would like to develop, leading to opportunities for secondments to other teams or simply taking on work in another practice area to self-develop.

As in the rest of Essex, social workers wanting to develop in practice have the opportunity to apply for various roles to support their development in the next stages, This could include senior practitioner roles, while for those who are looking to move into management, deputy team manager positions provide the ideal stepping stone.

A diverse area

West Essex is a diverse area, both in its communities and its geography. It stretches from Epping, just outside London but also incorporating the forest, through urban Harlow to the predominantly rural Uttlesford.

Michelle says “it offers excellent links to London“, while Kiran says it provides “decent affordable housing” that would be a strong draw for people looking to move out of the capital, along with good schools.

The diversity of the communities West Essex serves is reflected in the leadership role it has taken across the county on anti-racist practice.

One-service approach

Kiran says working within a quadrant enables a “one-service approach”, across different teams and between adults’ and children’s services, that would be challenging across a bigger geographical footprint.

The quadrant stops things being too siloed,” says Michelle. “We aim to work in a way that everyone is part of the same service. We believe that relationships matter so we ensure children and families get the right service at the right time so they can build those relationships that can effect change.”

This is in tune with the strengths-based practice model Essex practises across the county.

We’ve got relatively low numbers of children on child protection plans and coming into care so we are working on the premise of children being best off with their families,” says Kiran. “It’s easy to say but we practice that really well in West.”

Michelle adds: “It’s a very clear practice model. We believe children are best placed within their families where safe to do so and when we do bring children into care it is well considered and timely. What we don’t do is bring them into care without a clear care plan and a reflection on the impact of our intervention as that in itself can be harmful.

Exciting times

It is an exciting time to be practising in West Essex. On the adults’ side, under a new director, the service is deepening its integration with health and other services. The single point of access is becoming a care co-ordination centre, providing an integrated front door with the health service.

If you’re a social worker who wants to practise good relationship-based social work, going back to your roots, this is the place for you. Relationship-based practice is our bread and butter.”

Kiran Box, Service Manager

Essex County Council provide a wide range of opportunities in Social Care, meaning you can take on a role that suits you. We have roles available in both Children & Families and Adult Social Care, so we are sure to have an opportunity for you.

If you are interested in working in West Essex or the wider county, check out our latest vacancies here.