Andrea Bratley, Apprentice Social Worker, North East Lincolnshire Council

Andrea is an apprentice social worker at North East Lincolnshire Council undergoing her first year of study at Lincoln University and is loving every moment of her work and study. She has a long history working in corporate roles and is drawn to work which directly supports those in need.

“As my daughter got older, I think there was this realisation that I didn’t need to chase money anymore and that I could go back to what I wanted to do. For me, this was always about helping vulnerable people and children. That’s fundamentally where I come from.

“After completing a degree in Psychology when I was younger I started a career in the council, working in a range of corporate roles including policy and commissioning. Then one day I spotted an internal advert for social work apprenticeships. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about applying, mainly because having not long turned fifty, I feared I was too old for the job but I decided to go for it anyway. And to my pleasant surprise I was shortlisted. At my assessment day I was a good decade on everyone age wise but I was successful. And here I am! It’s brilliant – the best thing I’ve done, I’m so pleased.”

Her apprenticeship is structured similarly to any other university course but as a council employee all her fees are paid and she earns a wage.  Andrea is given written assignments to deliver, with upcoming years of the course requiring her to complete two statutory placements. In her current stage of training, she co-works cases with fully qualified staff three days a week in the council’s child protection hub; spends one day at university; and her other day in the week is a non-working study day. At the end of the apprenticeship she will qualify as a social worker with a BSc Social Work degree.

“Initially, I wasn’t allowed to co-work any cases, I was just shadowing. But as we’ve become more familiar with the law we are allowed to co-work now. Obviously, I am not allowed to hold cases of my own, because I’m not qualified yet, but I’m becoming more and more involved in assessments.

“This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but having never really taken it that far I thought I’d missed the opportunity. Now I’m doing it, I’m loving it. It’s interesting – every day’s like a school day again.”

Social work has also given Andrea a new perspective on her previous interactions with the field during her career. “Previously, if I ever had to work with social workers, I always found it difficult to get them engaged. Now I see their level of commitment to helping people, and their high workloads, I see why. Unless you’re part and parcel of their everyday life, you just don’t come onto their radar. You’ve got to work within child protection to realise that.”

With her new outlook and drawing on her previous corporate roles, particularly as a former commissioner of services, she believes that coordination between social workers and local government can be improved. The handling of cases can be better achieved through mutual cooperation and understanding. “One of the problems for our area is our partners and social workers are not sharing the same understanding of thresholds. When someone makes a referral, and it’s not acted upon as our partners may have hoped it would have been, that’s where there’s a misunderstanding. It’s really important that we help partners better understand the processes we have to go through, and the way we have to engage with families. If we can improve this, it will make for even better and more effective collaboration.”

The enthusiasm which pushed Andrea to begin her qualification has already helped her to develop a wide range of experience. She is familiar with the various duties required of a social worker and is quickly increasing in confidence when dealing with adolescents in need of support.

Andrea’s new experience, as well as living and working across the North East Lincolnshire area, has given her good insight into the problems faced by the people she helps. “Some mums and dads just need support and encouragement. We’re talking two or three generations where there haven’t been any aspirations to improve things or strive for a better life. So just building a little bit of confidence, in small steps, to give them that one step on the ladder can make a huge difference. Even moving young people up to possibly think about doing an English or Maths course, could help them get a better job.”

Though Andrea has not experienced all sides of social work yet, she is aware of what may be asked of her. She understands why some elements may frighten potential social workers away from the profession but is nonetheless optimistic about making a palpable difference. “I haven’t been in a situation where we’ve had to remove a child yet. That Is always the last case scenario in our profession. But even when that happens, I know that child will be in a safe, better place that night. As traumatic as it is, making sure the children are safe is what’s most important.

“I love being around and working with different types of people in different situations to find the good things in them. For anyone thinking about going into social work if you’ve got the heart and determination, just do it. You need to be honest and show warmth but also be assertive and strong when required. It’ll be rewarding. Some things will make you happy. Some things will make you cry. That’s what it’s like.

Currently, with the Covid-19 situation everything has been particularly challenging for our teams and the families we are supporting. Personally, I’ve been a bit up and down emotionally, but I work in a great team who are very supportive and caring of each other. It’s highlighted how good we are at working together to support each other and our vulnerable families. This’ll be even more important when we come out of the current restrictions and referrals increase.”

Although Andrea was born and grew up in Denmark, she moved to North East Lincs in 1984. Having worked and lived here for many years she fully appreciates the quality of life and great countryside on offer locally. But above all she loves the people. “Everyone is very welcoming. People are honest and straight talking. If you’re honest too, you’ll be warmly welcomed.”

And this love of people is, ultimately, what fuels Andrea’s passion for social work. “Children are our future. We have to look after them, give them support and enable their voice to be heard. Just because you’ve experienced something horrible, as a lot of our young people have, I’d like to think there’s hope for them. If I can be there to give them a smile or a tap on the back and say, ‘haven’t you done well at school today?’ and focus on their good bits rather than just living in bad memories all the time, that’s what matters to me. That’s why children’s social work matters, they’re our future and every child deserves a chance.”

This case study has been captured as part of Children’s Social Work Matters campaign Improving Lives’.

For more information about the campaign, children’s social work and the opportunities to get into a career in Yorkshire & Humber go to: https://www.childrenssocialworkmatters.org