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Meet our Looked after Children Team

Coronavirus update

Subject to the ongoing situation, it's essential that we continue recruiting safely. Therefore, interviews and communication will be virtual wherever possible and this will be communicated to you directly by the hiring manager.

Please also expect that advert closing dates and interview dates may change as required. We still continue to welcome applications for our current roles and wish you the best of luck with your application.

We would welcome applications especially for our most critical roles to ensure we're supporting our residents

Meet some of our Looked After Children Team, and find out about their jobs and the type of work they're involved in.

You'll also learn more about the benefits of working with Surrey County Council and the sort of people we're looking for.

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Natasha Gunner, Team Manager - North West Looked After Children Team

What's it like being a Team Manager for Surrey's Children's Services?

I manage four social workers and I have line management responsibility of their cases. Day to day I will supervise and mentor those members of staff as well as chairing and attending panel meetings. But most importantly, I think we are all valued and recognised for our hard work and that is really important for staff wellbeing.

Do you get to be involved in shaping the future of Surrey's Children's Services?

We were involved throughout the transformation process and took part in all the consultations. Moving forward myself and my staff continue to input our views and feel as though we are well listened to by our senior management.

How have recent changes impacted you as a Team Manager?

There is far more training available and it's much easier to access. The training I have received with the Surrey Children's Service Academy has been invaluable. Before there was a lack of preparation for the move from a Senior Social Worker to a Team Manager, but that has now been addressed. We are also implementing a best practice sharing scheme where we meet with other Team Managers and share our learning to improve our supervision.

How have your staff reacted to recent changes?

Everyone is excited for the future and think it has been a necessary change. Having more joined up working with our partners has benefitted everyone and has improved outcomes for children. Although the restructure has been difficult at times, we have had really good support from senior managers which has made the process much easier.

What structures have been put in place to support staff?

We have implemented the Employee Assistance Programme which provides independent personal and work support which has been hugely beneficial. It includes everything from counselling to legal advice, so it's a really good resource to have. There is also a website which gives staff advice on how to manage stress levels. As it's an independent programme it gives staff a real opportunity to be open about their concerns.

Does Surrey offer a good work life balance?

Yes. If you have particular needs Surrey is able and happy to accommodate that with flexible working hours. The longer you have worked here the more flexible they can be as well.

What is the career progression like at Surrey?

I started as a Family Support Worker in 2008 and Surrey has supported me throughout my career through a vast amount of funded training. They now have the Children's Services Academy which has been a great success. It really encourages, prepares and guides people through their career, and supports their progression. I was involved in some fantastic training to develop myself as a practise supervisor which I found was vital.

What is it like working in Woking?

Its great! Although it is essential to be able to drive, we are right by the train station so if you want to come in from further afield you are on the main line to Woking from London. We are also right in the town centre so there's plenty to do during your lunch breaks, as well as the park being on our doorstep if you wanted to go for a walk or a run.

Blessing Ruzengwe, Team Manager for the Looked After Children Team, RedhillBlessing Ruzengwe, Team Manager for the Looked After Children Team

What was it that made you want to work at Surrey?

I started as a locum, I saw the transformation Surrey was going through and I wanted to be part of that transformation. I applied for a promotional role, got it, so I became permanent. So, I was in the right place at the right time and I've never regretted it since.

Can you tell us about the range of work that you do?

I'm a team manager in the Looked After Children Team in the South East quadrant, and my team works with children who are mostly in care. I've got a team of seven social workers at the moment, and my role is to support that team in terms of case management and undertaking their safeguarding duties. I also manage performance, and I support social workers with their decision making. It's a wide-ranging role which involves the management aspect, but also case knowledge and knowledge of social work. If I need to go out and meet with the young people, I'll go out. If I need to speak to parents on the phone, I will talk to parents on the phone. If I need to have a meeting with them and the social worker, to resolve problems, or if we're just stuck and we need to review the situation and see how we can do things better, then I do that.

What would you say is the best part of your job?

When young people come into care, looking at them and seeing them transform into this very different person from the day that you met them; that is so satisfying. In my team, I've got one young person who's just won a scholarship, I've got another young person who is going to university! Looking at those achievements, looking at those transformations for those children – there's nothing that beats that. Being a team manager as well, I enjoy listening to my social workers and hearing their passion for improving the lives of children. It's the emotions, the feelings of passion which they project towards you and what they do; the commitment and tenacity they demonstrate in doing their job. For me, that's what drives me, that's what makes me want to come to work every day.

How have you been involved in the transformation process of the Children's Services in Surrey?

This is a vision for Surrey, which is not a difficult vision to see in terms of achieving the best outcomes for children, be it in care or at home with their parents. My involvement has been in working as a team manager, in leading my team to work towards achieving those goals, those positive outcomes for the children. That has involved supporting my team of social workers to find time to go to training and acquire those new skills they will need to help deliver that vision. That has involved setting aside time to have regular supervision with those social workers, so that they can reflect on the work that they are doing and get clear directions. It also involves setting aside time for myself, to upskill myself to a level where I'm able to support them, to make those changes in terms of how they work and gain the skills that they need for them to work with young people to achieve the vision for the outcomes that we aspire for children. So, my involvement is at a personal level, equipping myself to make sure that I can help. It is more about supporting social workers to help with the new way of working, and to help them acquire skills which are required for them to work using the new approaches.

How does Surrey support career progression?

When I became a team manager, I was lucky to be sent on a Practice Supervisor Development Programme. It was a good opportunity which enabled me to up my skills in team management tenfold. I wrote an article on LinkedIn about my experience on the programme, which is run by Research in Practice and Birkbeck University. Surrey County Council and other local authorities are involved with the programme. So, I benefitted from that. I also went on the Aspiring Leaders Programme, which was very eye-opening in terms of what leadership is like, what skills you need, and how to develop as a leader. You learn a lot of stuff about yourself, self-awareness, what skills you need, and how to develop those skills. There's a lot about team leadership, team management, teamwork. But there are so many other things which I've dipped into, because there's a large pool of training programmes which you can tap into if you look for it. There's also a pool of coaches; experienced people who coach others. I had a coach, which was a marvellous experience as well. I enjoyed it, and I still meet with my coach to chat about my professional development.

There's also the tailor made packages coming through the Surrey Academy, which makes it clear what you need to learn as a social worker and team manager. There's a lot. Everyone has to choose according to your strengths, according to which areas you want to develop and the skills you need.

What new structures have been put in place to support staff?

There are quite a number. The Surrey Academy is supporting professional development and mapping out the career path of every childcare professional or every professional Surrey. I think they've got nine faculties, and you can consult with them in terms of any development, and they can advise you. There are clear pathways for social workers with the move from being newly qualified to senior social worker. For those newly qualified social workers that are completing their first year in practice, they've got a very clear and guided caseload allocation, and they've got protected caseloads. They've got a team manager, and in addition to a team manager who helps out with the case management, which will be myself, they also have an advanced practitioner social worker, who does reflective discussion and supervision with them, and that helps. Social workers feedback that they find group reflective social work very enriching, and an opportunity for them to reflect. It helps them understand each other's cases. They have also said that by having the opportunity to share, it makes them feel less isolated, and they feel they can map things out with their social worker colleagues. Even under COVID currently, we still have our team doing group reflective practice using Microsoft Teams, and they say it's good.

How do you find the caseloads at Surrey?

The caseloads are really very good as they're around 15/16 in my team. We've come a long way to get to that level. The plan is to keep them at that level. The impact of that is seen in the quality of the work that social workers deliver, because they've got time for reflection and time to visit and do some work with the children. So, the caseload has been a journey which has been very positive.

Can you tell us how working with partners has changed?

There's more conversation, and more focus towards relationships. It's no longer just a job and a role; it's more about this deliberate effort to understand how our colleagues work, and how they can contribute towards the overall outcome for the children we work with. There's also reciprocal action from our colleagues. So, there's a lot of collaboration, a lot of consultation, and there's a very good emphasis on relationships and using those relationships to achieve better outcomes for children. Where there's a relationship, things work, they move.

How has this way of working supported social workers?

This is what is at the core of this – safeguarding children is not an individual effort. So, there is collaboration, and social workers realising that it is not all up to them; there are other professionals there. They could be the police, they could be Child in Adolescent Mental Health professionals, they could be Looked After Children nurses, they could be health visitors, they could be paediatricians who complete medical checks for the children. It is that shared responsibility that is driving the work, because where it's shared and it's shared in the right way, everyone will bring in their expertise and contribute towards the positive outcome. I think it must come with a very huge sense of relief to share that responsibility to drive change for the children we work with.

Do you feel that you get to be a part of shaping the future for Surrey's Children's Services?

Of course! I manage a team, and I think my contribution comes through the contributions or the support that I provide to the social workers in my team, and indirectly to the children who we work with and the outcomes they make. If I wasn't confident about my contribution to the transformation, I'd probably resign, because it would be useless! Your satisfaction comes from the job you do, from what you achieve. For a team manager it's with your social workers, with the children who are in your team when they make their achievements. It becomes very personal in that regard.

Do you find that Surrey's vision helps guide your work as a team manager?

Yes, everything is targeted towards that, isn't it? That's what's uppermost in my mind every morning; what is the best outcome for this child, and how do I get that? How can the social workers work to achieve that? The job which I'm doing now, it's so enticing and exciting and it's a good opportunity to be part of that journey. When there's a shared vision, half of the battle is won; it then becomes a negotiation about how to get there. That negotiation is easier when you're working with a team which you like, which shares the same qualities, which has got the same ambitions, which has got the same levels of passion as you.

Can you tell us what it's like to work in Redhill?

I've got a wonderful team and the location itself is brilliant! It's next to the train station and the town centre where there's a gym and everything you need. But I work with wonderful people, it's a very passionate group of people that I work with. We all have a laugh when we need to laugh, and we all challenge each other when we need to challenge each other. And that makes it more exciting. I know I'm in a good team, we share the same vision, we're negotiating the same journey

What would you say to someone who is considering joining Surrey?

Join now, before it's too late! Surrey's on a journey to great achievements, it's the right time to join now. You'll be part of an exciting change, an exciting transformation, and you'll be made to feel like part of a team. You will get the support that you need in order to do your job well. It is exciting to be in Surrey at the moment.

Alex McKnight, Service Manager, Looked After Children, Woking

What do you like about the range of work as a Service Manager at Surrey?

What I really like about the range of work is how varied it is at manager level. My day has a wide range of tasks, from supporting social workers and team managers to progress their children's care plans and work through crisis, through to meeting with professionals from other agencies on projects that improve outcomes for children in Surrey. I'm always driving performance and improving practice. As I've gone up through the career progression, I've found that the range varies even more. You have such a depth of work, that it's different to when you're a social worker; you're getting involved with different levels of involvement, and different people.

What's the best part of being a Service Manager? What do you enjoy the most?

Contributing to the development of workers and team managers, seeing their incredible commitment to children. And also seeing how the children in our care grow up, and most of the time thrive in Surrey's care. In the combining of the two teams that I now have, (Looked After Children and Care Leavers) that's given me an opportunity to see children from 0 all the way up to 25 sometimes, all in one team. I've been in that team for more than ten years in different roles, so children that I've worked with as their social worker I can now see how they're doing as an adult, and that's really lovely. Seeing their journey through care and into adulthood is brilliant.

So would you say there's a wide range of challenges available within the work at Surrey?

Definitely. In terms of working for Surrey the diversity is huge really. There's a huge difference in the types of families you're working with. There's a lot of multicultural work, learning about different ethnicities and backgrounds, and there's lots of crisis work as well. Also, in my part of the job, there's travelling to different parts of the UK for the social workers in my team. We work with children all the way from Cornwall to Scotland, because lots of our children are placed out of county. So, it's not just working with children or agencies in Surrey, it's working with agencies and professionals all over the country. And, sometimes, in other countries.

So you would say that someone applying would get quite a broad range of experiences?

Yes, I think because Surrey is such a large authority and the quadrant structure means we've got four of everything. So as Service Managers, we meet monthly to share different ways of working between our quadrants, and there's lots of forums where that's possible in Surrey at each level. And then you again learn internally from different quadrants about how they do things.

We can challenge each other at each other's practice and look at that. So, if you've got different ways of doing things, that challenges yourself as well. That's different to a lot of smaller authorities; you've got one level of management above you and that's it, so you haven't got the breadth at all. I came from a unitary authority that was small, and I found more professionalism and openness at Surrey to different ways of working as a result of having more people with different experiences in the same position.

What would you say to someone thinking about applying for a Team Manager role within Surrey?

Certainly in my team we've got a mix of people who've done the same, so they've been social workers on our team and then they've been successful in a team management role. So, they've wanted to stay and progress their career in Surrey, and we've got lots of managers like that. But it's also really helpful to have a mix of experience and skills.

When you've got a mix of skills and experience, that's what works really well; learning from others from other authorities, and the experience of how things work in Surrey. The people they are managing are a mix too, so you've got a mixture of skills and experience and people who've been in Surrey for a long time, people who haven't. And different ages, having come from within different parts of the service as well; people that move between teams, too. They might bring experience from the Children with Disabilities Team or the Assessment Team, then move to other parts of service. So, there's encouragement to move around and get different experiences.

In light of the Ofsted reports and ratings, what would you like to get across to someone who may be thinking of applying for a role at Surrey?

What we've had in interviews when people have raised the Ofsted reports, is they've said "Actually, I'd quite like to join a local authority where they're on a journey", because it means more emphasis on training, there's new ways of working, it's more challenging and more interesting. You're constantly being scrutinised because it encourages really good practice. And that means that there's more support, there's more challenge, there's more training available; that's actually quite a good place to be in.

Do you think that's a positive message in encouraging experienced social workers into Surrey?

I think so. It's not even just about the types of services you have, it's about what environment you're working in. And actually, if we're all trying to pull together to make things better for children so that Ofsted can see what work we're doing well, that's a good challenge for experienced workers to think there might be things I can bring that are different, there might be skills I've learnt from other authorities that work well that Surrey can be open to hearing about.

What's your career progression been like?

I started in Surrey as a social worker doing Child Protection work when I was already an experienced social worker, so I'd been in another authority for four years. I then wanted to return to a Looked After team again, because that's always been my passion. I moved into that team after a successful interview. And then I was lucky enough that the Team Manager role came up in that team two years later; I applied for that and was able to move into that position. Two years after that, the Service Manager job came up within the same team, and I was successful in that interview.

So, I've been really lucky that I've actually experienced all parts of the work within the team in one area in Surrey over the last ten years. It's been a brilliant experience, because I've been able to have relationships with all different professionals in Surrey that I've known for a long time or I've met in different parts of my career journey, and I've been able to experience the work at different levels, all within the same team. I've had the support and relationships with my colleagues in North West and other parts of Surrey, but also been able to learn on the job, and been encouraged to do that every step of the way. That's been a really great experience for me, because it's been using my experience and relationships to progress myself, but also it's been encouraged by my managers to give things a go, so that I can progress and move up each rung.

How's it been coming back from maternity leave into a new structure, and what do you think of it?

The main difference I've noticed is that my service is much more cohesive, and everyone's really positive about it. So, despite the Care Leaver's Service having a bit of upheaval and becoming a much bigger team, they're all enjoying the working relationships being closer. We are getting a CAMHS social worker in our team, and that will enable more therapeutic input for our young people, and that'll be really helpful.

Do you think the further changes that have been made to the service over the last few years have helped that progression?

I think the combination of Looked After Children, social workers and Personal Advisors from the Care Leaver Service has really enabled much more co-working between 16 and 18, and the relationships that those workers now have is much stronger as a result of being in the same team and having the same management group. It encourages the child's story to be much more easily translated between workers from childhood up into adulthood. And it means the workers really have a good understanding of that child as they turn 18, and have already built up a relationship with them that's a really well worked relationship with the social worker who has known that child for longer. It's much more cohesive for the child, and they get the same consistent messages from their workers.

Do you already get a sense that those children and families are seeing a noticeable difference from Surrey over the last few years?

I think one thing is that they would get more consistency of workers, because there's a drive to make sure that children don't change their social worker unless it's really necessary. So by having people in position for longer, having more permanent workers and working to a model in which the child's interests are more important than the change of team or service, that will enable children to not have to keep telling their story over and over. It means that the same managers and the same workers know their children better, rather than moving around the system more. And also with multi-professional working in Safeguarding teams, that will again enable much clearer communication between professionals in a more natural way with co-location and team meetings, so that everyone's on the same page and knows what's best for that child, and that they can all work together better.

How has your caseload at Surrey changed?

We're now at a point of reducing caseloads to the preferred level, because our team is almost fully staffed with predominantly permanent workers. And by recruiting more staff we've been able to help other teams earlier on in the process reduce their caseload as well, so we can take children at an earlier point. And that means that they get a better service for longer, and the Safeguarding Team can have lower caseloads as well. That means that we can enable social workers to do more direct work with children, work with children more in crisis, but still maintain our good performance levels.

Do you get a sense of how the caseload compares to other authorities?

Certainly in other authorities across the South East it's much higher. I wouldn't say there's anybody that's come to my team, from other councils, with lower caseloads. The first question people always ask in an interview is "What's your caseload?", so to be able to say "15" would be really beneficial to attract workers. And that is what we're saying now, we're getting close to being able to be 15.

Do you feel part of the shaping of the future for Surrey?

I've always felt listened to and involved in practice improvements and shaping services for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, and that's a part of the work that I really enjoy. I've had the opportunity to work with colleagues in the other areas of Surrey, other professionals and social workers on the ground to update and improve policies, ways of working and the IT system, which enables easier and more effective working for my staff.

How's everything working at the moment in lockdown? Has the transition been reasonably smooth?

Yes, it's been fine. What's really interesting is social workers are spending much less time travelling, because like I said, we have children in Scotland. Instead of having to travel to Scotland, they're just pressing a button.

How has the council supported the technology to make that happen? Did that all work?

Nearly everyone now has a new laptop, and they're quite small for carrying around as well, and everyone's been using Microsoft Teams. So, we've been having our team meetings on Teams, and just calling each other if we need things. Managers have been calling their supervisees and having small group chats just to catch up, and lots of people have really appreciated that. Especially when our team are out on the road a lot, they don't always see each other that often during the week. Now, they're actually seeing each other most days and having a catch up. What's also been really good is we've been able to hold professionals' meetings much more quickly and easily with everybody there, because everyone's more available. We're able to just set up in two days' time eight people to attend a meeting, and everyone's available, because again they're not travelling or not going between meetings physically.

Do you think as a result, your team are being able to have more contact with more families?

Yes, more often. So, they're certainly speaking to their children more often, and they're using WhatsApp and video calling. And we've been talking in the team about different games and direct work we can do on video calls. It's allowing us to have more creativity around what works for that child, and what works for different children. So, for example, one of my social workers has done a treasure hunt around the house as an engagement activity. Things like that, the children are really enjoying. And lots of children are really enjoying FaceTime.

Maybe we need to have a bit of a menu of choice in the future as to what that child wants from talking to their social worker, and how they want to do it; that'll be really interesting.

What do you like best about working for Surrey?

The professionalism, commitment and enthusiasm of everyone working together to genuinely be child focused. I think that is the number one priority of workers in Surrey, is they want the best for the child. They'll try and navigate systems and work with other professionals in order to make sure that child has what they need.

Pre-lockdown, how would you usually get into work at the Woking office?

I don't particularly have an issue with the commute. Woking is good for commuting by train, but of course we want social workers to have a car. We have a company care scheme, the Zipcar scheme; there are two electric cars at Quadrant Court that people can use, and we encourage our staff to use one when they go on long journeys so they don't use up their own mileage. That's good, because you can sign up almost immediately, and I think they can let you in the car, so workers can just book it in if it's available and just go off on their journeys and then bring the car back. Sometimes I think we've had workers who live in London who leave their car at the office in the car park overnight, and then just borrow the car if needed. So, there are different ways that we can get round commutes if people need to have a car. The Zipcar scheme works really well, and you can pick up cars near where you live as well and drop them back in different places.

What would you say the office culture is like at the Woking office?

I think it's really nice. It's all really open plan, and the benefit of Woking is that you've got the other teams in the building. We work closely with Fostering and Adoption Services and the Gateway Team, which is the placement team. We also have the Transitions Team, SEND (Special Education Needs and Disability Team); so, we're really closely located with lots of teams. And REMA (Race Equality and Minority Achievement Service), who are our interpreting services, as well. That's brilliant, because when we're physically there, we can walk round the corner and find whoever we need to talk to. It's a positive atmosphere there, it's quite buzzy. People do go round and talk and move around, rather than picking up the phone.

Emily Holloway headshot

Emily Holloway - Assess and Supported Year in Employment, in Looked After Children Team

What is your role in Surrey's Children's services?

I'm doing my Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE), in the Looked After Children's Team in the North East. It's going well. The reason that I wanted to come to Surrey is I'd heard how good the ASYE support is here, and particularly compared to the other options that I looked at it seemed like the place that I was going to get the most support. And so far it's been really good. I have two professional support networks for support, not only my team in the Looked After Children's Team, but also all the support of the Surrey Children's Services Academy. We have regular learning days within the Academy and we are also given a day each month of protected time to work on our ASYE portfolio.

What would you say was the best part of your role?

I've not worked in a Looked After Children's team before, and working with children for such a long time is nice. I get to build up relationships with each of the children, to really explore what they need or want and work with their networks to make that happen. And you can then really see the outcomes of making positive change for the children and young people. That's the best part of it, because it's work that continues on; it doesn't stop, and you keep trying harder to improve their outcomes.

What's your experience of Surrey's approach to working with children and families?

I'm going to compare it to a placement I had at another Local Authority where they had the 'Signs of Safety' model compared with the 'Motivational Interviewing' model. I think the approach we have here in Surrey of working with the whole family is much, much better. It also really aligns with my own personal values much more and the social work ethics much better. I think this is because you're not isolating the children out from the family, and we're very much encouraged to work with the family's whole network. I think that's really important to understanding the picture for the child, in the here and now and in the future. I think that's something that Surrey does really well.

How have you found your caseload?

I've been here since September and I've still got a caseload of 10, which is really good. I won't sugar-coat it and say that everyone else in the team is the same, but in ASYE I've been really protected, which I'm very pleased about, because it's important.

As I'm a new social worker and it's all new procedures for me, it's important that I'm able to learn from my cases and that I'm not overwhelmed. I'm glad that they've given me the space to work on each of the cases that I've got, because it means that the children I work with receive higher quality work.

What does team working look like in Surrey?

I think particularly in my experience so far, what's quite obvious is that the better communication and the better the network are at meeting up and talking and exploring what they've done, the better the work will be for the child.

I've had really supportive supervising social workers and Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) as well. Particularly being new to Surrey, being quite new to social work, it's been really helpful to have that support around me, and my experience of it has been really good so far.

How do you think social worker's professional development is supported?

I think particularly the ASYE cohort is very good, and they put in a big programme of training for us when we started, and scheduled that in for us before we even started working in the offices so that we had a good head start. So that was very good, and I was really impressed actually with how much they valued our own development and making sure we had the resources and tools to start the job. I was impressed by that.

From speaking to colleagues, it seems that's been a big change for Surrey; they've really homed in on personal development and ensuring that we're exploring where social workers may need a little bit more learning or individuals may need help. I'm new to the service, but I sense that that's been a big improvement for Surrey.

How have teams responded to Covid-19?

The transition into lockdown was pretty smooth. There haven't been any problems in terms of IT, and the laptops we've got are good and work well. I don't know if this is the experience for everyone, but certainly in my team we've been very protected in terms of ensuring that we don't go out without PPE, and they want our safety to be paramount. I've been impressed with that, because across the country I know that's not been the experience for everyone. There's also a lot more check-ins with us to ensure our own wellbeing is promoted, so even in our team we're doing daily check-ins; they're really making sure that we're doing okay. It is a strange situation, and the impact that it could have on us as individuals is also taken into account, as well as ensuring that we're doing the best we can in the circumstances for the children and families we support.

What would you say to someone considering where to become a social worker?

Certainly, I'd recommend being a social worker in Surrey. When I compare it to other students on my course who've just qualified and their experiences, it seems like Surrey is much better at putting the support around you. We have an independent assessor who is allocated to us, and so if I have problems or worries or if I feel something's not going well, I have her to independently advocate for me. So, it's really good, and I think that's something not a lot of people will have. I'd recommend it for that reason.