Allison, Family Support Key Worker

An interview with Allison, a Family Support Key Worker in Early Help.

Tell me a bit about yourself

I'm Allison, and I am a Family Support Key Worker for Early Help in Chichester. I have four children and three grandchildren and two more due to arrive this year. I also have four dogs, which are a handful!

I initially started working for West Sussex County Council (WSCC) about 25 years ago as a home care assistant for adult social care. The hours I worked were evenings and weekends, so that enabled me to still participate in activities with my children, go to school plays and things like that. Once the children got to school I wanted a bit of a change, so I moved to a role in the Family Link Worker Service in 2001, which I did alongside the care assistant role.

After sustaining an injury to my back during the home care, I gave that up and increased my hours with the service. Then we went through a restructure, so the service ended and we had to apply for a new post as a family support worker. This was a bit daunting, but I was successful and got the post as a family support worker and then I was encouraged by my manager to go for the role of the family support key worker, which was a step up. That must be about 4-5 years ago. I was successful with that and that's where I am today.

Was there anything else that inspired you to move into the family support keyworker role?

I was reluctant to move, because sometimes my confidence takes a knock, so I'm one of these people that once I become confident in what I do, I'm happy to do the role.

I would probably have still been a support worker now if it wasn't for the fact that my manager said you are definitely capable of this, you're already doing it. I really suggest you go for that role.

If she hadn't said that I would still be a support worker. I’m glad I did and feel I've been doing it well. I'm confident in what I'm doing and enjoy the job.

Why did you choose to work for WSCC?

I think initially when I started working for adult social care as a home care assistant, there were lots of choices of where to work. I could have gone to private home care agencies, but to be honest with you, the benefits with WSCC were much better. And because I worked unsociable hours, the rate of pay was really good. I did start off with a care agency, but the training was not good, and I was dropped in the deep end and that really knocked my confidence. So, I gave that up quite quickly. A friend recommended WSCC where she already worked in the social care team. She told me about the training and all the benefits that go with it, so that's what pushed me to apply to WSCC.

What qualifications did you need for your current role? Was there anything specific or was it just experience?

When I joined as a link worker, they went on my personal experience of having children and the types of things that parents have to deal with. But when the role went to family support worker, I didn't have any relevant qualifications for that post, so WSCC paid for me to do the CYPS (Children and Young People's Service) course. I went to college and did work at home, which took about 18 months. That gave me the relevant qualification to work with children.

Did you have any trouble fitting the course in round your work role and your family?

No, I just had to be disciplined. I had to make sure my calendar and my working week were managed really well and that I stuck to it.

What's the best thing about being a family support key worker?

It's the satisfaction you get from helping the families. You meet different people that have different experiences and some you can relate to. I know how it feels to be in a position where you might feel judged, so I can empathise with the families. I can relate to how they may be feeling and put their minds at rest. It's definitely this - the sense of satisfaction working with families.

What do you particularly enjoy about working with in the Early Help Team?

They are like my work family. There are two teams in Chichester. My team are really close, but we're also close to the other team - we're one big team, we keep in contact, and we support each other. I have not worked for another company where the support is as good as it is now. We support each other with work stuff all the time, and if there's personal stuff that people are going through, we also support each other. I think our team care, and we're lucky because it's not just one or two, it's everybody.

How does West Sussex support you to develop and progress?

Along with the CYPS course I completed, I have also signed up to the weekly training email. So, there's lots of training on offer - there's the training pathway for my role, but I can also access other training. I could apply for more social care training and there's apprenticeships out there as well. But I'm happy with what I'm doing now - it fits in with my life and gives me a good work/life balance.

Is there something that makes you feel proud that you've achieved or handled that you can tell me about?

I'm proud of all my families, even if the progress they make is small. But the families I am most proud of are those who are able to sustain the positive progress that they've made and have not come back into the service, because some of the parents that we work with have had bad childhood experiences. So even just to be able to open up to the workers is a big achievement in itself. And that's not easy to do for some of our families. So, yes I'm proud of all the families, there's not one that I would say is more worthy than others because their experiences are all different.

What would you say the challenges are in your role?

Gaining trust. Some parents have been brought up in the care system. They've had a lot of social care involvement and are quite often 'anti-professionals' - they always see us as social workers and that we are there to take their children away. It's breaking down that barrier to say no, we're here to stop families going to social care. To be open and honest about exactly what's going on, so we can then support them in the right areas. I think the challenge is gaining the trust of some of our most vulnerable families.

If there is one myth that you could bust about being a family support key worker, what would that be?

That we're social workers and we're going to take their children away, or if there's something that's not right, we will automatically report them to social care. It is a myth, by which I mean it depends on the circumstances. We may have to do that, but we would put measures in place to stop those things happening again. And as long as the parents worked with us, then we wouldn't be making a MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) referral. It's only if they breach safety plans and things like that that we would have to.

What would you say to someone considering joining Family Support?

I think you'd be hard pushed to find another organisation that would offer you the benefits you get from WSCC, also you've got the high level of training you can do. Everybody is very supportive, and I have no problem about contacting another member of the WSCC teams if I need help, because I'm confident that whoever it was, even if I didn't know them, they would help me.

I’d say, give it a try! There are obviously a few barriers that you've got to overcome if you're completely new. It is a lot to take on in learning the role and the paperwork around it. But the support is there, and you've only got to pick up the phone and speak to somebody.

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