Ten years of working together to tackle social work’s biggest challenges

After ten years being one of the UK’s largest collaborative social work projects, Children’s Social Work Matters, we’re looking back and reflecting on the journey so far.

“Yorkshire and Humberside has faced a number of challenges, but we have recognised them, and we are doing something about them. Out of adversity we are setting a national example. We are convinced that we can achieve more as a united force than as individual organisations. We have a shared desire to lead the way in making sector-wide improvements.” (Professor David Thorpe, 2009)

Where we started

In 2009, social work practice both regionally and across the UK was under a lot of pressure. Caseloads were high, and a series of high-profile incidents such as the Baby Peter case had undermined public trust in child protection, making it harder to recruit talented people to the profession.

It was clear that change was needed, so Professor David Thorpe was commissioned to conduct a large-scale review of safeguarding across all 15 local authorities. The results showed us that the best way to do this would be to work collaboratively across the whole region. This way, authorities could learn from and support one another to ensure that vulnerable children across Yorkshire & the Humber had access to the help they needed.

As a result, our senior management teams came together and agreed our Pledge to social workers, which sets out how the 15 partner authorities aim to give social workers the knowledge, confidence and support they need to make a real difference.

This commitment to our social workers led to investment in training and development, finding ways to share learning and collaborate at a regional scale. The outcomes include improvements in staff morale and wellbeing, and better support at every stage of a social work career.

How working together helps to drive positive change

Learning and sharing knowledge has been at the heart of our model for improving practice. The OurCSWM portal, an online space for collaborative learning, has been part of the programme since 2013, and is now used by over 4,500 practitioners, students and academics from across Yorkshire & the Humber.

Workforce Development with CSWM:
  • Holding a biannual Festival of Social Work conference, celebrating best practice while bringing together the new thinking and practice on themes important to our social workers.
  • Running regular webinars led by social work thought leaders from academia, expert practitioners and those with lived experiences.
  • Setting up stakeholder events to allow senior practitioners to discuss key issues, access expert advice, and bring what they learn back to their individual authorities

The results of our collective partnership work can be seen in our region’s turnover, vacancy and agency rates, which have remained consistently better than the national average for 10 years.

What’s next?

Perhaps the biggest advantage to collaborative working across the region is the way it allows us to adapt and learn from new challenges as they emerge. The nature of social work practice means there will always be challenges to overcome, but the landscape has changed since Children’s Social Work Matters began. Covid has been a recent example – existing online infrastructure and strong regional relationships CSWM has put in place allowed social workers across our region to respond to the pandemic in a flexible way, with virtual training and meetings being held through the portal.


“I would say that the CSWM programme is just as relevant now as it was ten years ago, if not more so. The ongoing refugee crisis, for example, will also inevitably continue to impact on our services and time will tell how many more vulnerable children and young will also need our help in the coming months.  Equally, transitional safeguarding is another area where we will be sharing knowledge and expertise on a multi-agency level so that we can ensure that our young people feel fully supported as they enter adulthood.“ (Melanie John-Ross, CSWM Lead)

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