Joanna Beal, Advanced Practitioner, Rotherham
Joanna has recently switched from agency work to a permanent Advanced Practitioner role with the Locality Team in Rotherham. As an Advanced Practitioner, Joanna will be more involved in the strategic side of social work practice, helping to upskill her colleagues, supporting newly qualified social workers, and taking on more complex cases. This chance to take up a mentoring role with more responsibility was a part of her decision to switch.
“At the moment I’ve got quite a heavy caseload so I don’t have the time to look at things at a strategic level. Moving forward, I’ll have a smaller but more complex caseload, which will give me the time to mentor and skill up the rest of my team.”
Working in the Locality Team often means that Joanna is involved early on in supporting children, young people and families through challenging circumstances. Like many frontline social work roles, flexibility and being prepared for the unexpected are very much part of the job!
“How I think my day’s going to go and how it actually goes are always very different! It’s a mixture of planned visits and responding to crisis situations, with meetings and paperwork fitting in around them. We do a lot of meetings virtually now, which saves a lot of time – I remember how having to travel to four schools in a row used to take up pretty much the whole day.”
Although the switch to carrying out visits virtually happened as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Joanna has found that virtual meetings have proven to be very useful with some unexpected benefits. With her team often functioning as a first point of contact with social work services, video conferences can better help to establish trust at an early stage of getting to know a family.
“Three years ago I would never have thought I’d be doing child protection conferences through a video call! It can be really useful and helpful in some cases, especially where families might be reluctant to let you in the house.”
Joanna’s decision to become a social worker came from a desire to advocate and stand up for young people and families who needed support, something which her own experiences made her passionate about.
“I wanted to be the social worker that I needed when I was growing up. I wanted to be fair and to give families a chance to do things differently.”
In order to get into university, Joanna studied an access to higher education course part-time while working full time.
“I feel like I’ve dedicated my life to being a social worker. Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I did it, but I really wanted to be someone who could think outside the box in what is quite an archaic system, to help families get through it.”
After qualifying, Joanna worked for several different local authorities, and the variety of experiences helped her to build an understanding of the type of working environment which suited her best – one where she felt able to speak up and voice her own opinions.
“I still really believe in that – if I’m not able to stand up for myself, how am I supposed to stand up for families who are often marginalised?”
With a few years of frontline practice under her belt, Joanna felt like she needed a change, and moved to a different sort of role in the Hull CAMHS inpatient service. While there were many positives, this experience highlighted what she missed the most about frontline social work.
“I really enjoyed that interaction with the children in the unit, getting breakfast, making friendship bracelets, things like that. But I found it very difficult not being in control of things, and not leading practice, so I went back to frontline social work as an agency worker.”
Working for an agency gave Joanna a way to try out a return to frontline social work, with the option of easily changing again if she felt this wasn’t the right time. This flexibility, along with the extra pay, made temporary work seem like a good fit at this stage in her career.
“Agency work was an opportunity to tentatively try out frontline practice again. I was worried I was wearing rose tinted glasses a bit, because I missed it. When I started again, there was something more fulfilling about being in the thick of it – it’s the reason I wanted to be a social worker.”
The support extended by her managers at Rotherham made Joanna feel welcome and played a big role in convincing her to switch back to a permanent role. When Rotherham initially approached Joanna about becoming a permanent member of her team, she wasn’t sure if this would be right for her. However, the authority made it clear they really appreciated her work and encouraged Joanna to apply for an Advanced Practitioner role. For Joanna, getting a sense that her place in the team was genuinely valued by Rotherham played a big part in her decision to become permanent.
“I’d never worked for a local authority who just came out and said, ‘We think you’re really good, we want you to stay!’. It’s really nice to be able to go home and feel like the hard work you put in is being appreciated. It’s a job where you don’t always get a thank-you, so that was a big factor in me accepting the permanent position.”
During the pandemic, support from team members and managers was essential, but fortunately a supportive and collaborative workplace culture was already in place. Frequent conversations between frontline staff and senior managers helped to make Rotherham feel like an authority focused on getting things right and putting the voice of the child at the centre of their social work practice. Having management staff who are willing to listen to their frontline practitioners is exactly what Joanna feels is needed for social work to constantly improve.
“I’ve always felt supported by my manager and service manager at Rotherham. That’s not about them just always agreeing with me, it’s having the space and time to feel valued. That’s so priceless for us on the frontline.”
For Joanna, the most rewarding part of her job is when people she’s supported gain the confidence they need to pursue and achieve what they want in life.
“For me if you spend time getting to know someone, building their confidence, then you look back and see the difference in them. When they no longer need you, because they’re able to stand on their own two feet, when they achieve things they thought they’d never achieve. That’s what makes it all worthwhile. You don’t really get this sense of pride, making a real lasting difference whilst working in temporary roles for agencies”
“Everybody deserves the opportunities and support to be what they want to be. That applies to families as much as it does to individuals. People shouldn’t be held back by poverty or other socio-economic reasons. That’s why children’s social work matters to me.”