WillisPalmer provides an array of consultancy and advice services for individuals and organisations.
Service Improvement is vital for any organisation - local authorities, residential homes, schools and private organisations - and WillisPalmer has the expertise at our finger tips to help support any organisation.
Our expert social workers and psychologists, all of whom have a wealth of experience and are highly skilled and trained, are on hand to provide a variety of services.
WillisPalmer can provide audits of case recording which can judge the quality of assessments in a local authority. We can also carry out pre-Ofsted audits in a bid to help authorities understand their areas of strengths and weaknesses prior to an Ofsted inspection.
We can provide consultancy advice to organisations or individuals and authorities can sign up to our services and benefit from advice from expert social workers on a range of issues such as domestic abuse, Child Sexual Exploitation or county lines drugs offences or specific complex cases whereby a social worker would benefit from the expertise of an Independent Social Worker with a wealth of experience in the field.
WillisPalmer also offers a specific mentoring project to organisations or individuals.
Mentoring Social Workers
WillisPalmer launched its Mentoring and Service Improvement Programme aimed at frontline social workers working in children and family services in 2012. The mentoring project aims to support anddevelop social workers in the delivery of safe, effective services to children and families, and by doing so helps to enhance the overall performance of the local authority. This scheme allows the local authority to benefit from highly experienced social work staff without the need to recruit or employ them on a long-term basis.
Our mentors are all highly skilled childcare social workers with proven track records in children’s services. Most of the expert social workers have been qualified for 20 years plus and many will have had experience in management. Mentors work alongside a group of pre-selected social work staff advising, guiding, and teaching, providing role modelling. Space is created for practice reflection and where appropriate, group learning sessions, based around six core modules. Mentoring programmes will typically run for 26 weeks, however, they can continue for longer if required, as mentors can transfer across different teams and services depending on need.
Each mentor works with four social workers each. The broad aims of the project are:
- Promoting greater confidence in social work staff
- Developing and improving risk analysis and decision-making for social work staff
- Developing and improving implementation and review of case plans to move cases on
- Developing and improving assessment and report writing skills
Outcomes can be measured against further agreed criteria dependent upon the specific requirements of each local authority. For example, a local authority might be specifically concerned about partnership or multi-agency working, or perhaps case related issues such as domestic violence or neglect. We can tailor outcomes to these and other requirements.
Towards Authoritative Social Work
An Experiential Learning Approach
WillisPalmer mentors work as a team of experienced social work professionals with a diversity of specialist skills and experiences. This allows them to introduce a range of theories and perspectives on issues relating to working with children and their families e.g. attachment theory, systemic family therapy, behaviour analysis and cognitive behavioural therapy, case formulation and risk analysis, models of mental health and disability, all leading to improved professional judgement and decision making. The approach is informed by sound sociological and psychological theory, social work theory and practice. The learning process is informed by Kolb’s Learning Cycle, one of the most influential theories in experiential learning.
The primary aim of the mentors is to promote an environment for action learning -a process whereby people learn together and reflect upon their actions. The approach enables mentees to undertake a range of taskswith the mentor present;reflect on and review the action they have taken and the learning pointsarising -this then guides future action and improves performance. In this sense learning is achieved ‘out in the field’ and is supported by formalised opportunities for reflection and analysis.
The approach of the mentors is to work closely with mentees sharing practice experience, demonstrating skilled interventions and providing support and guidance in a variety of settings, for example, joint home visits, attending meetings or court, direct observations of practice and so forth. This allows mentees to learn from experience, from observation and from their own practice.
The approach is tailored to the individual needs of each mentee within an experiential learning framework -in this sense it is ‘student-led’ learning. The desired outcome is for mentees to increase in confidence, skills and knowledge and to be able to reflect critically upon professional social work issues and therefore behave in an authoritative way with service users and professional colleagues alike. The process of experiential learning is supported by the Practice Reflection sessions in either a 1:1 or group work setting -which build upon direct observations of practice. In this way the mentor promotes opportunities for the mentee to relate theory to practice in an integrated way. In addition, Team Managers can be included in three way meetings to clarify roles and responsibilities.
Practice Reflection sessions focus primarily upon the following:
- The accurate assessment of need
- The accurate assessment of risk
- The targeting of appropriate levels of intervention
- The analysis of appropriate approaches towards individuals or family systems
- Analysis of individual ability to assess and intervene•Identification of strength and weakness in practitioners
- Identification of additional support needs
- Reviewing team and organisational priorities for intervention
- Support/training/guidance in producing high quality reports, especially reports for Court and major planning settings
- Identification and evaluation of research material
Typically the key theoretical issues addressed in the sessions are as follows:
- The analysis of parent child interaction
- The analysis of couple dynamics
- The analysis of parenting style
- Providing research and behavioural evidence from a range of possibilities
- Exploring solutions to 'stuck' situations
- Maintaining a child rather than parent-centred focus
- Report preparation
- Understanding individual motivation
- Organisational dynamics
- Inter-agency roles
- Preparation for meetings
- Interviewing skills
- Culturally sensitive interventions
- Direct work with children -creative strategies
- Analysing service user discourse (especially to identify problem maintenance strategies)
- Development of a variety of practice interventions
- Developing understanding of particular problem areas such as domestic violence, drugs and alcohol misuse, parents with learning difficulties
- The nature and effect of mental illness on individual, family, parenting functions
- Understanding the traumagenic dynamics of abuse and neglect
Evaluation from previous projects indicate a range of strongly positive outcomes which are reflected in the views of middle and senior managers, the mentees themselves and from the mentors. Most significantly, line managers have reported observable improvements in practice skills from social work staff including, but not exclusively, in direct work with children, risk assessment and analysis, report writing skills, planning and workload management. Moreover, it is reported that the project has had tangible benefits for other team members not selected as mentees. There appear to be clear advantages for individual social workers of having a number of experienced and skilled social work practitioners working alongside them on a regular basis.
The benefits to local authority children’s services of commissioning a mentoring programme, with the overall aim of maintaining and developing authoritative practitioners over the longer term, can be seen in the list below. Many of these service gains also translate into potential cost savings for the local authority:
- Increased confidence of social work staff
- ‘In the field’ training and development
- Improved assessment of risk and need
- Improvements in social work report writing and presentation at court
- Better targeted interventions with families
- Improved multi-agency working
- Better decision-making
- Improved organisational abilities
- Better prioritising of workloads
- Improved throughput of cases
- Enhanced recruitment opportunities
- Improved staff retention
- Developing managers of the future
The project has worked with a broad mix of mentees ranging from NQSWs to more experienced social workers looking to develop their skills.
Mentees reported the following outcomes:
- Greater confidence and self-esteem
- Improved communication skills
- More informed social work interventions
- Improved skills in working with children
- Concise and succinct report writing
- More robust evidence-based practice
- Increased professional skills and knowledge
- Increased personal enhancement
- Learning how to better respond to professional colleagues
All mentors have reported observable practice improvements in those they are working with.
Mentors reported outcomes for mentees were:
- Improved social work skills
- Improved delivery of service
- Greater confidence and self-esteem in practitioners
- Greater self-awareness of their own impact on their managers, their peers and in their service delivery
- Staff retention benefits
- Improved communication between managers and mentees