A picture of Andrea StoneMeet Andrea Stone, Service Director of Children’s Social Care at Dudley Council. In her role she is responsible for all the social work teams within the Council.

Her passion for social work, came about after the birth of her second daughter when she decided she wanted to switch careers and do something that was more community based working with people.  She went on to do some voluntary work and a social care access course before embarking on studying a degree in Social Work.

Speaking about what attracted her to specialise in Children’s Social Work

I’ve always been passionate about children and since I was young always wanted children of my own. My parents were foster carers so I was used to being around fostered teenage children when I was growing up and had seen social workers coming to the house. So, I had seen first-hand how Social Workers can support children and families. I wanted to support children and their families, ultimately to make sure the lives of children are secure and safe.

For those who don’t understand the role of social work, do you think there’s still slight misconceptions?

I do think so, it’s something we as an industry have to think about – how do we get families to understand that we’re here to support. There’s a perception about social workers wanting to remove people’s children from their families and that is just not the case, we absolutely want to keep children at home with their parents when it is safe. We go to great lengths, working in collaboration with lots of partners, to see how we can support families to keep children at home.

Removing children from their home really is a last resort. Our ultimate goal is to find family solutions for both the immediate and extended family in order to keep children at home.

What do you think the region has to offer to individuals?

When I joined Dudley in August 2019 I immediately felt part of the culture – the collaborative and dynamic culture makes it easy to work on the areas that do require improvement.

I have worked in various environments, I have worked down south, up north in Manchester, Midlands in Leicester. What I have found here, which is quite unique to Dudley, is that it is a really warm, supporting and welcoming, environment and that’s been a really positive experience.

I still remember joining the profession as a newly qualified social worker,  feeling a bit anxious and not knowing whether I could ask certain questions. At Dudley we have really focused on creating an environment where everyone feels supported and allowed to ask questions. I feel really passionate about this and making sure the team has the tools they need to do their job.

How has the current pandemic affected how you relate to staff?

I think we realised for our staff that this was going to be the biggest challenge, we ever had to face both in a work setting but also at home. In my life time as an employee, as a manager and as a leader, I have never had to deal with anything like this.

We quickly implemented tools to enable our teams to communicate virtually and ensured we continued the one-to-one supervision and team meetings. We also created time for the team to talk about non work issues because their wellbeing is of utmost importance to us.

Collaboration between partner organisations

I am real advocate in trying to have what I call interface meetings, where key partner organisations share knowledge, understanding and expectations. I think having these overarching meetings as well as all the other day to day activity helps us to see all those themes, patterns and areas of concern and what we can do strategically to improve that.

The Safe Guarding Partnership in Dudley is really strong – we have the three statutory partnerships, Police, Health and Social Care. Since the pandemic first hit, we have met every Thursday morning to talk about the challenges, what can we do to support each other and the support to children, families and staff. This enables us to identify any gaps, blockages and opportunities quickly whilst putting safeguarding measures in place.

One of the issues that is on everyone’s radar is the mental health and wellbeing of children and families. By bringing these different organisations together we can work together to focus on putting the right support in place.

Notable moments most proud of?

We did a review of our Child Protection Plans and meetings to improve the experience for children and families. The work was done collaboratively as a multi-agency group and we have produced a joint policy and practical guidance that has been approved by the Safe Guarding Partnership.

Any final words…

Whilst Dudley has had some challenges we have put a sound improvement plan in place and positive change is happening. Certainly from the inside, where I am sitting as service director and part of the leadership team, we are very focused on how we can continue to effectively support our workforce in making things better for children and their families.

Our goal is to develop a strong culture of high support and high challenge so we continue to do great work in Dudley – and we just need to recruit more staff to help us do that.

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