This week is Social Work Week and Social Work Awareness Day. Dr Lynn Prendergast, Associate Director, Social Care working in Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT), shares her experiences of developing mental health social work in the NHS.
Like many people, I went into social work to make a difference to vulnerable people and their families. I strongly believe in both the involvement of individuals and families in the planning and delivery of services and the integration of service and am a proactive member of the New Roles in Mental Health Social Work Group, working with Health Education England (HEE) to inform mental health social work.
The group brings together mental health social work leaders at a national level and pools our knowledge to benefit the organisations, social workers and communities that we work with. It is creating a range of resources to support the employment of mental health social workers in a wide variety of settings.
Social work in the NHS can offer and provide so much ensuring that the multi-faceted needs of individuals and their families can be met. It’s important that the voices of social workers are heard in health settings, and we need to encourage them to advocate and others to listen. Social workers form strong partnerships with other professional groups and make sure they challenge narrow perspectives on illness and, importantly, they work collaboratively with individuals and families in a very complex space.
It is this fundamental belief in the strength of social work in the NHS that has informed how I, and the social workers in Essex, have been part of HEE’s programme of work as we expand the workforce and this role in the NHS. We have tested guidance and resources, convened focus groups to contribute to the questions of professional leadership, provided expert feedback on areas of practice such as trauma-informed work and shaped the delivery of practice in new roles.
We recently completed short films on what it is like to be a mental health social worker in the NHS which involved people working in those roles sharing their day-to-day experiences. For myself and my colleagues it has further embedded our professional identity and increased our confidence in what we can achieve and influence.
We are currently working with HEE on leading a programme of Practice Supervision training across the East of England region, in partnership with Research in Practice, specifically for NHS mental health social workers. This will further clarify how the role of social work is informed by robust practice supervision in the NHS. This is supported by a career framework for mental health NHS social workers and our work nationally with partners to define and establish Continuing Professional Development for NHS mental health social workers.
I qualified as a social worker in 1996 and have worked in mental health in an integrated setting since then. I hold a mixed portfolio and I lead a brilliant and enthusiastic Social Care Leadership Team, working with system partners in the provision of forensic social work within secure settings and services to individuals with dual diagnosis.
In EPUT we recognise that social workers are fundamental to delivering the requirements of the NHS Long Term Plan. We are on a journey that is providing exciting opportunities for mental health social workers who are also beginning to take up leadership positions in the organisation such as Associate Director, Service Managers, Quality Lead and Clinical Lead/Managers. Our work with HEE helps us embrace Perinatal, Complex Care Pathways, Child and Adolescents Mental Health Services among other specialist services.
On our journey we are a partner with Think Ahead a national programme that trains mental health social workers and we are working together to ensure culture change across health/community partners and successful integration of mental health social work at a national level.
I celebrate social workers in the NHS and the bright future I believe we have. I do reflect with you on the difficult time we have all experienced. It has been a horrendous two years and continues to be challenging but it is not possible to deliver good social work without you; you are the most important element. If you are feeling overwhelmed make sure you are talking and seeking out support. I wish you every success for yourself and others.
Resources and guidance:
- Guidance on the support of mental health social workers working in NHS, independent or integrated services
- Transforming Mental Health Social Work Report