Making the Link Officer role work for you

07 November 2016

Laura KirkhamLaura Kirkham

Getting the most out of RiPfA membership and promoting a culture of evidence-informed practice can be challenging, particularly in times of economic unrest, budget cuts and pressures on care services – so how do we embed learning and development and RiPfA at Lancashire County Council?

I am currently working as a Team Manager in Adult Social Care at Lancashire County Council (LCC). I am a qualified Social Worker and Best Interest Assessor, and Stage 2 Practice Educator with over 11 years social work experience in the Adult Care Sector. I have been the Link Officer at LCC for Research in Practice for Adults (RiPfA) for just over a year, having previously expressed interest in the role when working as an Advanced Practitioner. I can honestly say it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career so far and I have recently been awarded the title of Link Officer of the Year (2016) at the Link Officers' Annual Meeting

For me the Link Officer role requires a high level of enthusiasm and interest, particularly in research. You have to have the drive to inspire a learning culture throughout the workforce, which isn’t always an easy task, particularly at times of economic unrest when a great deal of focus is being placed on budget cuts and the pressures on care services. However, turning a negative into a positive – it is about getting the most out of the RiPfA membership, being creative with the support that is available and identifying those areas of development you need to focus on the most.

For example, as a Link Officer I have been keen to promote the vast amount of resources that RiPfA offers online and through hard publications. In particular, I am a fan of the Working with people who Self Neglect: Practice Tool and the Risk Enablement: Frontline Briefing publications, amongst others. Ensuring RiPfA features as a standing item in monthly team meetings and that any new or relevant publications are discussed during these forums is also beneficial for staff and my role has promoted this within teams.

Webinars from RiPfA have similarly been a useful way to promote learning. I have always ensured, where possible, that these are broadcast to small groups of staff; facilitating wider discussion, reflection and continuing professional development across the adult social care sector. The feedback from which has always been overwhelmingly positive.

Tailored Support has also been used creatively at LCC to cascade learning across the organisation. We opted for workshops on Supporting people who self-neglect and Trainer Transfer - Getting learning into practice.

The self-neglect workshop was delivered to a group of senior social workers with the intention that they would use the information and learning attained to develop ‘learning circles’, which could then be disseminated across adult social care ensuring everyone benefitted from the training that had been delivered. Similarly, the Trainer Transfer workshop was selected specifically for managers who were undergoing a change of role, as they expressed concerns that they felt a little ‘out of touch’ with practice development. The workshop was structured to enable them to develop these skills and also included a section on legal literacy, which was found to be particularly beneficial.

Moving forward we have taken the opportunity to use this year’s Tailored Support to put together a multi-agency event for safeguarding colleagues and members of the Partnership board. This will be delivered to 100 delegates and aims to raise awareness and provide information on self-neglect within the context of the Care Act 2014. It will also guide practitioners to the research evidence on approaches found to be most effective in supporting people who self-neglect and develop an understanding of how agencies can coordinate their individual responsibilities, working together to help the individual make some positive changes, to reduce risk and harm. This event will also combine a RiPfA launch and is a fantastic opportunity to promote the work that RiPfA do both across our own organisation and network Partners.

I have found RiPfA colleagues, particularly our Account Managers to be helpful in terms of supporting us to identify where RiPfA could fit with our learning and development plans as an organisation. For example, last year our Account Manager Kate travelled over to Lancashire to attend a learning and development group meeting with our Principle Social Workers and other learning and development colleagues. With Kate’s input we were able to put together a plan in which Tailored Support could be utilised to target those areas of learning that we as an organisation felt needed the most attention. I would recommend to other Partners to make sure they involve their Account Managers in meetings and decisions involving learning and development plans.  

I certainly feel at a time when managers are under so many other pressures, it is easy for learning and staff development to take a back seat. However, with the support of RiPfA, we have worked hard to ensure that this is not the case at LCC. In many ways RiPfA does the hard work, undertaking the research and ensuring it is easily accessible. It is simply the Link Officer’s job to point everyone in the right direction and make the best use of the support that is available.

About the author

Laura Kirkham is a Team Manager at Lancashire County Council and the winner of the Research in Practice for Adults Link Officer of the Year award (2016). 

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