While everyone has been impacted by COVID-19 over the past 18 months, some have definitely been hit harder than others. This includes Independent Social Worker Lyn Newberry who experienced flu like symptoms last September, tested positive for Covid in October, resulting in a six day hospital spell.
Since October, Lyn has experienced ‘long COVID’ and has experienced infection after infection, extreme tiredness, breathing difficulties meaning she is now reliant on an inhaler, swollen glands which act as a warning sign to slow down if she has overdone things as well as problems with her memory, meaning she wouldn’t feel confident giving evidence in court anymore.
She likens the symptoms to ME which she experienced some years ago, but rather than bemoan the situation, Lyn remains upbeat. “I survived COVID-19 and many didn’t. Far worse things could have happened.”
Lyn qualified as a social worker in 1995, following her desire “to make a difference to people’s lives”. As a self-confessed people-person, Lyn was actually childminding and got chatting to a social worker, explaining that she would love to be a social worker herself but thinking it would be too difficult to get into. The social worker advised Lyn on ways to train and she went on to study for a btec in social care and gave up her childminding business.
Essex Council was, at the time, sponsoring social work students to go to university in return for two years’ service and Lyn joined the council and was placed in the children with disabilities team. Despite being adamant that she didn’t want to work in child protection, Lyn soon realised that it was important to have experience of child protection work in order to progress in social work. She joined the child protection investigation team and ended up finding it both challenging and rewarding in her two years on the frontline.
From there, Lyn joined Thurrock which, at that time, had recently become a unitary authority and worked in the assessment team before moving into family support. Following her time at Thurrock, Lyn went to work at Redbridge as a Senior Practitioner before being appointed as team manager.
In 2003, Lyn joined Cafcass and became a children’s guardian, representing children’s welfare in the family courts. At that point, Cafcass workers were allowed to take on independent social work and a colleague introduced Lyn to working independently. She advised Lyn on her first independent report and Lyn took on more independent work before joining WillisPalmer to access more independent social work in 2006.
By 2008, Lyn moved on from Cafcass and was undertaking a locum part-time managerial social work post working with adolescents in Suffolk alongside her independent social work with WillisPalmer, and, as she had been working independently for some time, she was also approached directly to undertake independent work.
Combining a part time role, either locum or employed, alongside independent social work is a good way to test the waters of working independently as a social worker. Some social workers at local authorities cite fear as holding them back from going independent – particularly in terms of “leaving the bosom of the local authority” and the safety net of having a big organisation behind you. Combining part time work with independent social work provides social workers with the security of employed work so many hours per week as they build up their independent work while giving them a flavour of working independently.
However, by 2015, Lyn decided to take a break from social work and applied to be a magistrate, where she had to sit in the criminal courts for two years before applying to sit in the family courts. Lyn also became a trustee for Home Start with responsibility for safeguarding. Lyn had also become a governor at a secondary school with responsibility for safeguarding on a voluntary basis in 2009.
However, sitting in the family courts reignited Lyn’s passion for social work. Having been out of practice for over four years, she had to undertake training and provide evidence showing that she was able to re-register with the regulator. In 2019, Lyn got back in touch with WillisPalmer and was undertaking age assessments on unaccompanied asylum seeking children, parenting assessments and Special Guardianship assessments.
But then COVID hit and Lyn became unwell. “I couldn’t recall memories when put on the spot initially and needed time to think about my answer, so I didn’t feel able to give evidence in the witness box anymore as an expert social worker. I didn’t want to end my social work career in this way - especially as I’ve not long come back to it – but I couldn’t see another way.”
However, Sarah Stowe, managing director at WillisPalmer, had different ideas and contacted Lyn to see if she would be interested in a Quality Assurance role including mentoring Independent Social Workers who are new to working with WillisPalmer.
“I mentor ISWs who are new to working with WillisPalmer and provide feedback for their first two reports produced for us. I also quality assure the reports. It was my colleague at Cafcass who helped me with my first few pieces of independent work, like an unofficial mentor, so it feels like I am passing this on,” said Lyn.
“I am also in talks about returning to a role as a practice educator. I had previously mentored qualified social workers studying for the Child Care Award as well as being a practice educator. COVID has definitely changed my life but I do believe things happen for a reason. I’ve now gone full circle and I’m back to mentoring new ISWs and in practice education.”
Lyn agrees that it can be daunting leaving local authority social work to become independent although, she says, WillisPalmer has made a number of moves to make the transition more straightforward for new ISWs such as introducing a framework of how a report should look and what information should be included.
She is looking forward to passing her knowledge on that she has learned over the years in various settings. Her extensive social work knowledge as well as her skills as an ISW and magistrate make Lyn perfect for the role. “When mentoring ISWs and quality assuring their reports, I need to ensure that they are aware of the levels of risk, there is an analysis of risk, that observations fit in with attachment theory.”
“It’s important to be well informed on key legislation including The Children’s Act 1989 and essential practice guidance such as ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children. All my skills as a social worker will be utilised in this role and having been an ISW myself, I know how I have liked to receive feedback through the QA process and how it has helped me learn.”
“I also know from the courts’ perspective what magistrates will be looking for in the reports and of course I will be ensuring that grammar is correct, formal wording is adhered to, that reports are not rambling and are succinct and answer the questions to enable the court to make a decision,” added Lyn.
“I’m delighted to have been asked to do this work – I feel really valued again and feel like I’m not ready for the scrap heap just yet – I still have a lot to give,” she said.
As well as her own experience of COVID, Lyn also feels there is an awful lot not known as a result of the pandemic.
“Children have not been at school, social workers have not been able to meet children in person. Families have been cooped up together and if there is already someone in the house who is aggressive or drinking heavily, that is only going to have been exacerbated during the pandemic and there is an awful lot that has not come to light yet. Meetings have moved online and I think we will see a lot more of Zoom and Teams meetings in future. However, in social work, it cannot all be done online and it is essential to interact with people – it’s the basis of the profession,” Lyn concluded.
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