Introducing Ali Gardner, our social work practice advisor in Wellbeing Teams

Last week reinforced for me how important social workers are in how Wellbeing Teams develop. I was working with senior leaders in Wigan and Martin Walker from Think Local Act Personal, on how we can introduce Individual Service Funds. This means that we want to look link social work assessments and paperwork with the paperwork used in homecare, to make it seamless for people and reduce any duplication. We also want to work as ‘Trusted Assessors’ and work with social work colleagues in that role. So our relationship with social workers is critical to our success, and I wanted to invest in help and support to get that right. This is where Ali comes in, as I have asked  her to be our advisor to support us to pay attention to the wellbeing of social workers in how Wellbeing Teams develop. I asked Ali to introduce herself, and why Wellbeing Teams matter to her.

I started my career as a social worker with older people with a learning disability in 1993. My passion for this area of work stemmed from an early experience on my social work placement at university. I was asked to complete an assessment of a lovely man, Norman who was due to spend a week in ‘respite care’. Norman was very anxious about this, as were his family who worried that nobody would understand all his little quirks. I remember thinking that the form provided was quite unhelpful and only focused on basic needs such as allergies and medication. I decided to do something a little different and proceeded to write what I later understood to be a person centred plan. The plan included amongst other things Norman’s wish to rub the tip of his nose across the television screen when it was first switched on to feel the prickly friction that old TV’s used to produce. I had a few battles in handing over this plan but with an encouraging practice educator who said ‘give it a go’ I managed to persuade the home to work with me.

Since this experience I have continued to develop and embed my understanding and passion for person centred approaches in all my work. Moving from social work to policy and later to social work education I have continued to support others in recognising and adopting person centred approaches in their own work.

The emergence of the Personalisation agenda was an exciting time for me. The ideas of self-directed support that disabled people had been calling for, since at least the 1980’s, started to be taken seriously by the Government. As policy and practice shifted towards self directed models of care and support, it started to feel like notions of choice and control could become a reality.  As an academic, I was fortunate enough to have a number of good colleagues and partners who provided me with opportunities to keep connected with practice and frontline social work. My role as the Director of a Board of Trustees of an advocacy project also supported me in understanding some of the challenges and opportunities in adult social care. In this time I was heavily involved in developing educational resources supporting the implementation of Personalisation. My book Personalisation and Social Work in 2011 was published by Sage and focused on supporting social work trainees and social workers to understand the agenda and support implementation. The agenda at this time was moving at such a speed that I was asked to write a second edition in 2014 capturing some of the transformational shifts in practice. The book gave me an opportunity to encourage students and social workers to engage with ideas around person centred practice, strength based approaches and the importance of relationships when supporting and enabling individuals to make choices and take control of their lives.

More recently I have started to develop a passion for social pedagogy that centrally recognises the need to apply ones head, heart and hand when working alongside individuals. A key focus or aim of social pedagogy is to promote happiness and wellbeing and insists upon a relationship-based approach in which the worker is emotionally connected to the role and the individuals they work alongside. It seeks to reduce power in all situations and identifies holistic learning as a key tool in promoting well being at every stage of life. Finally social pedagogy promotes creativity with a firm belief that this enhances outcomes for individuals. I am currently teaching and training in this area as well as writing a book linking social pedagogy to social work and contributing as an international partner in the development of a MOOC on social pedagogy. It is my firm belief that social pedagogy provides a key opportunity to engage with individuals from a strength based perspective.

The recent Care Act (2014) provides a legal basis for the adoption of such an approach. With a renewed focus on wellbeing rather than welfare, it is my belief that social care has an opportunity to challenge itself to let go of process driven traditional practices and seek to employ creativity and value driven practice in the design and delivery of social care.

I believe that Wellbeing Teams provide an opportunity to reflect the values above. Adopting a flexible and responsive framework allowing a shift of focus from delivering tasks to self-determined outcomes enables the leading principle of the Care Act (2014) – promoting individual well-being (s1) to become a reality. Likewise a focus on caring for people rather than conditions encourages an engagement with what matters’ to individuals rather than just what is important for them. The report Loneliness, The State We’re in – Age Uk 2012 highlighted significant risks to both physical and mental health, along with increased mortality rates for people facing loneliness in older age. Participants ranked social relationships and feeling connected as a key dimension to their quality of life. At the heart of Wellbeing Teams there is a commitment to supporting what matters to individuals, staying connected along with being safe and well. It is these values along with subtle yet significant shifts such as remaining small and self-managed that promote a person centred approach to the support. Finally, Wellbeing teams explicitly recognise the most critical resource we have in providing care and support – relationships. Recognising the need and value in understanding the strengths, passions and wishes of both the individual and the Wellebing Worker from recruitment through to the matching process acknowledges the power of the relationship in the overall success. Finally using a model of trust rather than supervisory inspection/monitoring, allows Wellbeing Workers to use creativity and judgment in their work, which in itself is more likely to bring ownership, diligence and pride in what they do.

For me, the Wellbeing Teams offer a real opportunity to lead the way in doing things differently. If you think like me that on the surface it seems to make sense, then it probably does! As I often say to students when teaching person centred approaches, it is simple but it is not simplistic. Just like knowing what mattered Norman and making it possible for him to rub his nose across a TV screen each morning and relax into a day with that prickly sensation at the end of his nose.



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