Meet Katie Cooper, Team Leader, Children’s Safeguarding and Support service at Warwick District. When doing her Masters Katie did her second placement in a safeguarding children’s team and that’s when she knew she’d found her calling…

Commenting on her role in children’s safeguarding, Katie says, “I absolutely loved it right from the get go. I felt like a round peg in a round hole – everything just fit it immediately and I knew it was the right place for me,”.

She recognises it’s not the role for everyone, “The nature of the work is hard and you deal with some difficult situations but I just I love my job.”

Katie was stay at home mum for quite a few years before she became a social worker. When her eldest started nursery, she started to see other children at the nursery and that is when it became apparent to her that not all children are treated the same. She said, “I might have been quite naive at that point, but I hadn’t really sort of thought about it before. Seeing the struggles different children and families face made me want to do something to support them.”

Katie started doing a degree with the Open University, focusing on childhood and youth studies. This introduced the idea of social work to her. She did some volunteer work in a Children’s Centre and then embarked on the Freedom Programme, which is aimed at survivors of domestic abuse – but there was such negative feedback about social workers whilst she was there.

Wanting to change things for families in difficult situations, Katie went back to University after her third child as a full time student and did a Masters in social work and she was offered a job after doing a placement in a children’s safeguarding team – she hasn’t looked back.

Lockdown has demonstrated how agile & responsive the team are

Because of working in a safeguarding team for child protection not much changed for Katie and her team. They followed the guidelines but have still been visiting families frequently to ensure they have the support they need.

The team were unable to take children out so much. Katies said, “We would have gone to a café or somewhere outside the home environment, which just isn’t possible. But we go for a walk instead.”

The team have continued as normal, carrying on with the adoption process, proceeding through the court if they need to and finding homes quickly where needed. They have also adapted and innovated where they can – they have been able to do virtual introductions, helped adopters make a little video children and read stories online to ensure children get to know them.

This said, like most other sectors a lot of work has moved online, like Child Protection Conferences and Katie said this has had benefits: “I found that it’s increased attendance at our strategy meetings, where we have to get sort of all the professionals involved. In my perspective, that attendance at those meetings has been massively improved and that’s got to have a positive impact on our families.”

We asked Katie whether there are any stories she’d like to share

She talked about a sibling group who were in foster care and the foster carer gave notice on them during the height of the pandemic. Sadly, they next home could only house them for a week – Katie and her team worked around the clock to try and find them another home where they could stay together.

Their school sent a letter to the MP saying the social workers don’t care and how terrible it is for the children. Katie said, “It was terrible for the children and we were doing everything in our power to resolve it.”  The team found another foster family for them and the children are thriving. Not only that but the teacher has now come back and spoken to Katie to apologise and thank the team for doing all they do.

The importance of selfcare and supervision

Selfcare is so important in this sector, according to Katie: “Caseloads vary and sometimes you have to deal with incredibly difficult and emotional situations. At one point you will feel so very overwhelmed and panicking and the next week it will settle down a little. This is why it’s so important to put a good support structure in place and create an open culture where everyone feels comfortable talking about what’s on their mind.”

Katie talks about the importance of prioritising supervision. She says, “As a social worker you cannot underestimate the value of supervision. Having time to just pour your heart out, and having a really good relationship with your manager, it’s massively important.”

The team have still been able to do this virtually and Katie has tried to ensure that she is as available to her staff as much as possible. She explains how they have been having virtual catch ups over lockdown but also taking it in turns to come into the office as a team, practicing social distancing, to ensure there is that connection and consistent support.

Amazing continual development and learning opportunities

One of the strengths across the region is the West Midlands Teaching Partnership and access to some great learning opportunities.

Katie talks about the importance of finding time to do the training. She said, “Here at Warwickshire they really do promote growth and development, supporting you with your career development. I have done some amazing training programmes which have really enabled me to support children and their families.”

Final note from Katie…

Katie talks about the beautiful surroundings in Warwick and the strength of the team. She says, “Our team are so close and we are all there to support one another – sometimes you just need to just come back and just cry or use someone as a sounding board. Our leadership team is also very supportive and are visible, which I think is really important.”