We have some truly fantastic people working with us here in the Trust, all playing their part to improve the lives of children, young people and families.
From our exceptional frontline staff to our colleagues that provide that indispensable support, we are all passionate about Sandwell…you’ll be joining a great team!
If you want to find out about our leadership team and Board… have a look here.
Hear from some of our colleagues about what it is that they love about working with Sandwell Children’s Trust by clicking the sections below.
Meet Louise Wright, Head of Service at Sandwell Children’s Trust. She worked as an agency worker for years, working away from home and travelling back every weekend. Whilst she loved the variety she wanted to buy a home and settle down – in 2015 she made the decision to take a post closer to home.
In April 2018, Louise joined Sandwell Children’s Trust as part of practice improvement work on a temporary contract for three days a week, which involved travelling again. During the short time she was there, she could see how passionate staff were and how badly they wanted to make the right changes and deliver good services to children.
Louise said, “There was something in the air at Sandwell Children’s Trust – this made me feel with strong leadership and guidance, the staff there would really turn things around for the families they serve. They all really wanted to make the right changes and some of the barriers to this were easily spotted and removed, such as processes and structures.”
When the contract came to an end she was due to be promoted into a role much more local to where she lived. During this period, she was contacted and asked to join Sandwell Children’s Trust for another six months.
Louise said, “I was surprised by how little deliberation this took, after all, this would see me working away and travelling home on weekends which I had sworn to myself I wouldn’t do again. That said, I took the opportunity – there is something about this place that just drew me back to it. The people are eager and passionate, and I really wanted to be a part of it.”
In August 2018 she set off for Sandwell, feeling both nervous and excited for the journey ahead. She knew she had a short amount of time to make a difference: “I was concerned that I wouldn’t be heard, because I was just another Head of Service who would come, make changes and leave; to be replaced by someone else who may change things back and leave; and so on.”
Contrary to what Louise had thought, she felt right at home within a matter of weeks. She says, “The people here are so kind and welcoming. Some staff understandably were cautious of the changes I wanted to make but seemed to find the enthusiasm infectious and wanted to be involved and a part of the journey we are on.
“There were some days it felt really tough back then, but it is the people around me – social workers, practitioners, managers etc that made those days more than worthwhile. I knew I had to do it for them, I had to tap in to what was working and show them how good they are and what difference they all have the ability to make.”
At the end of Louise’s six month post she took the decision to apply for the permanent post. She said, “The thought of walking away from the team and away from changes which had been made but needed to be sustained was something I really struggled with. I had always sworn I wouldn’t work away from home again, but my commitment to the people here and to the families of Sandwell far outweighed this.
“There is a sense of excitement and commitment from all of us here. I try to maintain strong links with all my staff at all levels and I gain so much from them, they have contributed to me being the leader that I am today.
“It may seem crazy to some to live away from home to be here but coming here has been the best decision I ever made. I have built a work family here that make anything seem possible. I can only thank Sandwell Children’s Trust for taking a chance on this Yorkshire lass and allowing me to be a part of this.”
It was 2005 that our journey really took off in Sandwell, we found ourselves working as Community Support Workers in different parts of Children’s Service. We loved the role, the work was always varied and interesting…we were all passionate about working with children and young people.
In 2008, we had the opportunity to embark on a social work degree. Sandwell funded the tuition fees and helped us find a way to make it work around our busy lives. We were all so excited to be working towards a career that we loved, and it was great to be able to support each other through the course at Wolverhampton University.
Eighteen months into the course our world fell apart. We were called into a meeting where our manager explained that due to a change in government policy, the funding had been withdrawn. It was devastating, everything that we had been working for was slipping away from us. There were tears, we felt helpless. There was no way we would be able to fund the rest of the qualification ourselves…what could we do?
We got together with our Divisional Manager, an inspirational leader who we knew would work with us to find a solution. Eventually, we hit on a compromise – we all reduced our hours, and Sandwell used the savings to pay for our qualification…Sandwell were adamant that we would become social workers!
In 2012 we qualified. We all took jobs in Sandwell and haven’t looked back. Each of us has progressed in a rewarding career, the beauty of Sandwell is the variety. We are Senior Social Workers, Team Managers and IROs. We have set up whole new approaches to targeted services and we have developed countless staff along the way. It is great to work in such a vibrant and multicultural environment – Sandwell truly values diversity.
Sandwell is more than just a job, it’s become part of us. Since becoming a Trust we can see the passion, commitment and dedication of the people that we work with, we have been supported by great managers along the way and honestly feel like we have been looked after.
Sandwell committed to us, we are proud to commit our careers to Sandwell.
And the five of us? We have a lasting friendship. That’s what keeps us in Sandwell.
Laura Martin – Team Manager
Gail Hardy – IRO
Rajbir Dhillon – Social Worker
Bernadette Gorman – Team Manager
Neelam Sharma – Social Worker
Meet Paul Wareham, Supervising Social Worker in the Fostering Team at Sandwell Children’s Trust. We caught up with him to find out how he got into social work and what it is he loves about his role.
Paul’s journey started after he was involved in a massive traffic accident. He was a lorry driver at the time and had been since leaving the army – the accident put him in hospital, he was unable to move and could only hear and see.
During his time in hospital, he saw how elderly people were being treated, especially when they were discharged. It got him questioning himself – what could he do to help?
He knew he didn’t want to be a nurse and then he saw lots of adverts to be a Social Worker in 2005. He looked at different routes into social care – he started an open university health and social care course, then an Access to Social Work course.
After a little break to have surgery he went to Birmingham City University to study. When he started studying he was more focused on Adult Mental Health, Adult Safeguarding but when he started his second year it became clear he wanted to specialise in child social work.
During his third year he did his final placement at Sandwell, which he describes as his adopted home. In 2013, Paul qualified and joined the Step-Up Students cohort on a three-month contract, where he moved from Care Management to Care Leavers then ultimately to Fostering.
We asked Paul what he loves about working where he does
Paul says, “I have a real passion for Fostering. The variety is huge, and you get to work with such a range of people – working with children, adults, Social Worker’s and foster families.”
He enjoys delivers training and undertakes assessments – getting to know people, their histories and their lives.
Paul loves seeing things change for the better and feeling he is making a positive impact.
Commenting on his team he says, “Everyone is invested in working hard to make a difference. The management team are fantastic – they are really approachable and supportive and ultimately, we feel valued as employees. I feel part of a family here at Sandwell.”
How has lock down changed how he works?
Since we have been in lockdown things have changed in the way we do things here at SCT. Especially for me. I have never been squeamish about working in a pandemic and stepping forwards as this is something I have experienced before. Having said that I have had to consider other people, and this has added to the risk assessments done before a visit. Where before I would make an appointment and visit; now must consider people in my own household as well as those in the clients. There have been occasions where I have had to virtual visits, although I have kept these at a minimum; this was a choice made between me and the client. The Trust encourages us to be sure we will be safe and provides PPE if it is thought necessary.
I have found that some clients have adapted well to the new way of digital communication and things do run smoothly.
I have been able to continue delivering training throughout the lockdown. It was a little difficult in the early months as the software we were using was not really suited to it. However, once we have had access to Microsoft teams this has changed. I am now delivering the training regularly and it is running at intervals of six weeks. The more I deliver the training the more versatile I find teams to be, which helps as I can the pass tips to colleagues. By being able to continue to deliver the training we are keeping the flow of new foster carers at a steady rate.
How is this helping foster families/children?
The training we deliver has been an enormous help to the connected persons foster families, in particular as fostering may not have been something they had thought about before, as it provides them with knowledge they may not have gained in other ways, especially at the start of the journey. We cover the basic skills needed and provide a brief introduction to attachment theory among other things, but also the practical side that connected carers are not always aware of or prepared for such as the need for continual recordings and attendance at meetings and training. This in turn helps the placement to remain stable which then aids the Children’s long-term life.
Challenges in the early stages of lock down were most certainly due to the equipment we had at that time as well as not having a good space to work from. Many have adapted corners of the house, some of us have been able to create an office. For those like myself who have extra needs, we have been able to bring our equipment home, in my case this is extra monitors, specialist keyboards and mouse as well as my special chair. This has been a god send for me.
Being away from the team has been a challenge. My team had only just formed as a unit when lockdown began. Just prior to leaving the office we created a WhatsApp group, and this has been a brilliant tool for us. I believe had we just been in the office we would not have bonded so well, or we may have taken longer to do so. overall, we have become a very close team and we work well together, which is aided by a manager who really looks after us, welfare and workwise, and his manager works in the same way for him. we are a very fortunate team.
The other challenges have been the ability to get in to homes and see the children. For most this has not been an issue but there have been clients who have tried to keep us out, whether they be parents or foster carers. in such cases we needed to be persistent. It was also difficult in the early stage as we had little information to go by, but as the trust and the country settled into lockdown we began to have daily and weekly messages from the comms team and the senior managers which has helped in terms of guidance and has answered questions we have had. Ultimately the management team has been able to secure our place as key workers and we have had access to the Covid 19 vaccine for several weeks almost from the roll out.
A day in the life of Josh – Horizons Team worker…
Meet Josh Merrick, Youth Exploitation Worker in the Horizons Team at Sandwell Children’s Trust. We caught up with him to find out more about his role, how he is working with young people and what he loves about his team.
Josh has worked with young people since he was 15 years old – volunteering at a primary school, working at summer camps, mentoring and youth work in charities. – recent role being a Youth Work Coordinator for a Charity in Wolverhampton looking at overseeing and delivering Universal and Targeted programmes for young people.
After a number of roles working with young people he now works within the Horizons Exploitation Team, a co-working model working alongside Social Workers across the service, to reduce risk to children and young people at risk of exploitation.
We asked Josh to tell us a little about his work
Whilst lockdown has changed the way Josh and the team work somewhat the first priority of the week is catching up with what’s happened over the weekend – emails and phone calls.
Return interviews are scheduled with workers across the team to meet with young people who have gone missing over the weekend. Typically, there are two to three interviews per day.
Josh says, “Every day, my focus is working with young people who are classed as high risk of exploitation.”
He talks about the challenges that come with lockdown. He says, “It’s all about building trust with young people and the type of meeting varies depending on each individuals. Pre pandemic this could be a catch-up at McDonalds, a telephone call, a discussion whilst in the car or on the bus, going for a kickabout or listening to music together and have discussions following on from this. Not having all of these options available creates challenges.”
Positively impacting the lives of young people
Josh worked with one young person who was involved in County Lines drug dealing and had been stabbed. He would only engage in the car whilst on the move – he hated being in one area for too long and didn’t like the idea of being seen with a professional.
He said, “I asked how he was doing and invested time in him as a person. But also talked about consequential thinking, understanding of risk, grooming, experience of county lines, healthy relationships and also the wider impact of exploitation and drugs. It’s all about building trust and challenging mindsets.
“Talking whilst we were moving helped this young person feel comfortable and this enabled him to open up – it was an environment he felt safe in. There’s nobody looking over his shoulder and he’s not seen as being out with a ‘professional’.”
It took Josh four to six weeks to break down barriers and build a relationship which then led to more focused conversations. This young person now talks openly, he’s in training – getting his Construction Skills Certification Scheme card, completing first aid, health and safety and asbestos training along with completing his English and Maths qualifications. He is closed to the service but often messages to let Josh know how he is getting on.
Why Josh loves his role…
Josh says, “This is such a rewarding job! It’s intense at times and often need time for reflection. My colleagues and manager are a great support – we create plenty of time to offload, run ideas passed each other, everyone has different specialisms and backgrounds.”
He explains that the type of work and young people he is working with make it really intense. “We hear so much difficult information on a daily basis. We must ensure we’re not pushing our own opinions on young people and enable young people to feel empowered to make their own decision and make sure their voice is heard. It Is important to understand and keep at the forefront of our work that the young people we are working with are victims of exploitation and have been groomed – even if the young person doesn’t see it themselves, we have to help them realise. Patience is the key along with a lot of understanding. It is important to try and see things from their point of view.”
“I absolutely love my job. One of the best things about my team is that everybody is on the same page, everybody wants to get the best outcomes for young people. It’s quite overwhelming working with passionate staff who care and our Management Team are wicked!”
I joined Sandwell in 2009 from a Transport background – Director of Company that I started when I was 19 years old with one other colleague. 10 years on = Director, 35 staff, 2 depots in the UK, turnover £7.5m per year.
Life changes linked to health, I developed a disability and needed to move into a different area of work. So why did I choose Sandwell? I knew it was an organisation that would be supportive to disability and by chance a job came up in Sandwell in Business Admin.
I brought along loads of experience with me but not really many qualifications in this area of work. I was supported to gain my NVQ Level 3 and have had lots of training opportunities. It has always felt like a place where I’ve wanted to stay. Improved wellbeing, no stress/worry and always felt supported.
The journey into the Trust initially felt apprehensive. Nothing really felt different in the first 12 months but it feels very different now. I feel excited about the future and feel more exposed and able to have a voice in decisions/changes that are being made.
The Trust talk and consult with staff – it’s very apparent.
I feel that my knowledge and experience is valued now, not always felt like that.
The best thing about working in Sandwell Children’s Trust is the ability to do a job well with support (in respect of disability). Feel cared for – everyone actually cares. Our logo signifies ‘looking after each other and putting an arm around each other’.
I feel that I have a fantastic opportunity personally to boost the team and feel privileged to be in the Business Admin Supervisor role.
I re-joined Sandwell on 31st March 2020 at the start of the lockdown. I had started my career in Sandwell back in 1984 and Sandwell gave me a very firm foundation through my unqualified practice, and seconded me into my Social Work Training. I worked here for 15 years, and then worked in other locations for 17 years. I made the decision to return to Sandwell for a variety of reasons. I had always had it in my heart that I was born and raised in Sandwell and that at some point I would return the organisation that gave me such a great foundation.
Then a great opportunity came up not just to join Sandwell but to join a service that I knew I could help to make a difference in, the Quality Assurance and Safeguarding Unit. I knew almost straight away that I had made the right decision. There were people that I came across even during my first few days that I had known all those years before – how wonderful to see those people that had remained within the organisation, working there way up through different career paths and were all so welcoming on my return. It was also lovely to be welcomed by new faces, and people who, despite all of the real challenges at that time in lockdown were so willing to help me re-acquaint with the organisation.
Sandwell has provided me, not only with a chance to return and to offer my gained knowledge and experience, but also has ensured that I have felt supported as a practitioner, as a Manager and as a person. I have felt valued and respected from day one, and this has gone from strength to strength. I have had development opportunities, and now lead a service that is part of the drive for even further improvements, and ensuring that our children in Sandwell are safe.
Work in any social care organisation during these times, would be challenging, but being in an organisation that supports you, understands your role and challenges, that encourages and develops your skills, that offers you learning opportunities and promotes you as a person, is somewhere that I am now glad to be.