Sarah Hubbard, Supervising Social Worker, Barnsley Council

Sarah is a supervising social worker in the Fostering team in Barnsley and has been a social worker for 15 years. Originally from Leicester, she came to work in Barnsley in 2008.

Like all social workers, no two days are the same, particularly in her role supervising and supporting 25 foster carers. There are lots of elements to the work including: regular/monthly visits, doing the associated paperwork, conducting annual case reviews, attending reviews for looked after children, attending strategy discussions and attending professional’s meetings.

“The variety is part of what I like about being a social worker – I can get into the office with a plan of action and then something will crop up that requires you to drop what you are doing and give your immediate attention to another issue. I’m always busy, fully occupied, which is good.”

Sarah’s journey into social work started from when she was working in a residential unit for children with profound learning and physical disabilities. “We often had social workers coming in that didn’t know them, didn’t know how they communicated and didn’t know about their care plan in the unit. It made think, I can do this, I can do it better, or I can try and do it better. Although, it’s a cliché, I wanted to make a difference!”

Due to personal circumstances at the time, she didn’t pursue becoming a social work until several years later when she was working in Leicester attached to a team that promoted education, leisure and play for looked after children.

“I’d been in post for literally one week when I spotted an advert on the intranet looking for people interested in social work. Having been working for the local authority for a year I decided to put an application in and they said yes. In practice, it meant that I would work in the social work department and study for my qualification at the same time which was a Diploma in Social Work – the last year that this study route was available. Although this meant I would be taking a pay cut, my course was paid for and I’d be getting a foot in the door in the social work team.”

During her course, Sarah’s line manager in the social work team left and in the interim she picked up some of his work. ”Being thrown in at the deep end helped me really prepare for my social work career ahead.”

Sarah qualified at De Montfort University in Leicester in 2005. “Shortly afterwards, my brother who owned a house in Featherstone, West Yorks was looking to rent it out. As renting from him was a much cheaper option than staying in Leicester I decide to move and managed to get a job with Wakefield Council in their ‘front door’ team. I literally moved to Yorkshire on the Saturday and started work on the Monday having bought an A to Z map on the way into work!

“The ‘front door’ team work involved dealing with all incoming social work enquiries, for instance regarding child protection, hospital discharges and adult protection concerns. It was useful experience, but it was frustrating too, because it was all desk based.”

After about 6 months Sarah moved to doing private agency work largely doing assessments. Although she had been drawn to the increased earnings and opportunity to improve her experience, she recognised that it wasn’t a substitute for working for a local authority. Having enjoyed doing social and emotional support for looked after children over the years she then applied for a job at Barnsley Council in 2008 and has been there ever since.

“Agency work is well paid, but it doesn’t offer the job security and the overall package that local authority jobs have to offer – this is not just the pay and benefits but also the training opportunities and team working. Also, you are not able to develop and maintain long term relationships and knowledge both with children and families plus colleagues. In our team at Barnsley quite often a new case will come up where I’ve actually worked with one of the children or carer concerned before. It makes a big difference both for them and the team not having to go over their life story and details again.”

After starting in Barnsley’s assessment team Sarah did a 5-month secondment to the children with disabilities team, then worked in the long-term team before moving to the fostering team where she is today.

Sarah loves what she does because she knows she can make a positive difference to a child’s life. “When you go home at night and you know you that you’ve been able to make a difference, knowing that someone’s life is going to be even a little bit better because of something you’ve been able to help them with, is what it’s all about. It’s also about giving children and carers a voice. When I’m working with children and foster carers, enabling them to get their voices heard and views across, seeing them standing up for things they think are import, is brilliant.

“Foster carers also want feedback and they want to know that there is someone in their corner. I’ll fight for carers and for my kids to get the outcome that they need and that’s what I love about my job.”

Sarah’s had no regrets since moving to live and work in Yorkshire. “I’ve never looked back. The people of Yorkshire are so welcoming and friendly – I felt part of the community right away.  The cheaper cost of housing and living, also made a massive difference and in working for a progressive social work team in Barnsley, I’ve seen and experienced first-hand the good career opportunities to progress and grow.”

Another important part of Sarah’s working life is being part of her team. “We have a great team. Between us, we have a wide range of shared and different experiences. I’m never embarrassed to ask a question or for help – the team is very supportive, there’s always someone who will help out. This includes our senior management team, they’re very approachable and they care about everyone. This means a lot, it makes you feel valued and makes you want to do a good job. The team spirit has certainly helped us cope with the added work pressures during the coronavirus period including our daily WhatsApp chats. The fact that we’re all in this together has helped get everyone through it.”

“At the end of the day, being able to make a positive difference is why children’s social work matters. In the end, the positives always outweigh the challenges.”

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