Laura Eden is the Director of Children’s Services (DCS) in Newham. 

Responsible for providing strategic leadership of children's services, Laura oversees the planning, development and delivery of services that aim to improve the needs of all Newham’s children, young people and their families.

Laura talked to London Social Work for Children about her career to date, the importance of maintaining a connection with frontline practice, and how London’s collaborative social work network helped equip her for senior leadership.

Recently in post, Laura talked to London Social Work for Children about her career to date, the importance of maintaining a connection with frontline practice, and how London’s collaborative social work network helped equip her for senior leadership. Social justice has been a key theme throughout Laura’s professional life, but her drive to tackle inequality began earlier than that:

“There were some profound experiences growing up that led me to find social work and really develop a passion for it. From the age of about sixteen or seventeen that passion enabled me to turn my life around, to have a focus.”

Before choosing to specialise in Children’s Services, Laura picked up a range of experience supporting people affected by inequality, working in homelessness, disability services and the prison service before her love of youth justice cemented her decision to work with children and families.

“I've always been really interested in people's lives, in understanding how people get into different situations, how their environment shapes their make up. I had a real firm belief that children shouldn't experience abuse and neglect but when some do, how can they helped to repair from the trauma, how can we support them through relationships to come to terms with what has happened and how this will shape but not define their future”

In her leadership roles, Laura has always made a point of staying connected to frontline social work practice. This helps her to make strategic decisions that account for the experiences of practitioners children and young people, but also means she doesn’t lose sight of the parts of social work she initially fell in love with:

“As you move up in social work, you miss interactions with children and families, you miss that privilege of going into their home, supporting them and developing a plan with them. So I'm a big fan of running practice weeks of going out with staff, hearing from children and families, seeing what I need to do as a leader to ensure the conditions that wrap round their practice are there for them to enable them to build relationships, deliver the best interventions and ultimately do what we are all here to do, make change with families and improve lives.  I also love debating needs of families, risks, planning and so on. I think senior leaders need to be reminding themselves of what it's like to be on the front line and how strategic direction can influence things operationally.”

As Laura’s social work career progressed to leadership roles, the support and opportunities offered by the greater London region played an important role in preparing her to take on greater strategic responsibilities. As Director of Safeguarding in Islington, senior leaders around Laura encouraged her to think about the next step, and she was supported to complete DFE-funded Upon course, which looks to prepare potential DCS candidates:

“I don't think about my next move because when I am in a job I do my best, am immersed in it and count it a privilege to be positively changing lives; but other people push me. The Upon Programme, for  Aspirant Directors of Children's Services , really pushes you to think about imagining yourself in the next stage, or if you don't imagine yourself in the next stage, how you could be the best leader you can be in a director role.”

Jon Abbey,  Director of Children’s Services in Islington was Laura’s previous manager. Jon has supported Laura throughout her roles in Islington, and is glad to see her dedication recognised through her appointment to DCS in Newham.

“I am immensely proud of Laura and am happy to have played a part in supporting her career progression. As senior children’s services staff, it is so important that we support our aspirant social work leaders by sharing our experience and good practice wherever we can.”

Jon Abbey, Islington Council

Jon Abbey, DCS at Islington Council

Alongside her more formal learning, Laura has found that she can always tap into London’s wider social work community, the contacts and relationships she has built up over her time with Islington and across London were invaluable in helping her to navigate a switch of authority to become DCS at Newham:

“I think London is unique in terms of the support it offers -  it's really supportive. There was always someone who has experienced what you may be experiencing whether that’s a systemic leadership issue or a personal leadership issue, someone to listen, reflect and support you. There are also a lot of directors in London and they are a close-knit group, there’s a Practice Leaders’ group, regional and London wide DCS groups and everyone supports each other, it’s just a very nurturing environment.”

For anyone who is starting out in social work, Laura recommended spending time in safeguarding, as this area of practice provides opportunities to build understanding of the wider support system for children and families:

“I do have a firm belief that even if child protection and safeguarding isn't for you, it's very important to get a grounding within that area of work, working with families in the community, where children are at risk of significant harm or have suffered significant harm. It gives you an in depth understanding of the whole children's services system, in my view.”

Find out more about working with Laura in in Newham, and view their current social work job opportunities.