Tina McElligott is the Director of Early Help and Children’s Social Care Services in Barnet.

Tina's role covers a broad range of services including reducing offending, tackling violence against women and girls, contextual safeguarding, child mental health, early help, workforce development and safeguarding. A breadth of experience is essential to be successful in a senior social work role; Tina’s personal experience as a care leaver and professional background encompasses a broad range of experience across youth justice and mental health, she even spent time abroad in Kazakhstan delivering training and supporting development of community-based child disability services.

“I’ve always been passionate about making sure that children get the best experience early on, preventatively, and if they need to come into care that they get the best support available. Children’s lives can be very fragmented if they’re disrupted by separation, so making sure they get loving homes with adults they can connect with for their entire life is so important.”

A mixture of responsibilities enables Tina to look holistically across different points of contact, linking together support options and making sure opportunities to intervene early are taken advantage of.

“My portfolio is a mixed bag of responsibilities, it cuts across community safety, mental health, early help, and safeguarding, but I see the join-up, and that’s why I really enjoy it. My role enables me to make sure the system around children is coherent, so we’re not all tripping over ourselves trying to help, and we can put interventions in the right places at the right time.”

A practical example of this work can be found in Barnet’s handling of out-of-court disposals (different ways of resolving a situation without going to court i.e. caution or community resolution) for young people. In Barnet, out of court disposals are led by Early Help Services instead of the Youth Justice Service:

“We put out-of-court disposal work in Early Help because we want children to access the positive activities available and schemes like the Duke of Edinburgh Award really quickly. Our focus on early diversion means we have one of the lowest reoffending rates in London and I think that’s because we do things this way.”

Another key focus in Barnet is on collaboration, co-production, and community. By adopting a place-based model, which positions support services in the community they serve, Tina and her colleagues help reduce barriers to access. They also actively involve local children and parents in developing and improving services through their child participation & family involvement strategy: ‘My Say Matters’. Tina initially wanted to amplify the voices of children and give them a direct say in how we deliver services:

“Two years ago I thought “We need to get better at hearing the voices of children, we need to do something different.” So, we worked with groups of children on child protection plans, children in care, our Youth Parliament members, and children from across the borough. Now My Say Matters has taken on a life of its own!”

The participation approach has received whole council buy-in and is helping embed children and young people’s experiences and needs in a wide range of services and systems; seeing their influence grow has been hugely rewarding for Tina:

 “The whole council leans into our My Say Matters work because it’s such a good model of co-production. Children are opening council meetings, they’re talking at council events, they’re coming along and telling the adults in the system what it’s really like for children and what they need from us. It’s completely transformed the way we do things.”

Barnet are particularly proud of their track record in multi-agency working, and how this helps social workers meaningfully connect with their community. This approach provides practitioners with access to all the expertise they need, supporting the building of constructive multi-agency relationships. Tina highlighted this setup as a key part of the borough’s offer to potential job candidates.

“We start with a multi-agency induction when new staff join Barnet, including health, police and teaching professionals. It’s a great hook when it sits alongside all of this really wonderful child participation and parent involvement activity, our specialist early years parenting hub and fantastic early help system and all the co-located expertise of clinical practitioners and independent domestic violence advocates. There’s so much support on offer to help social workers to do their jobs.”

Another key pillar of Barnet’s recruitment and retention strategy is the high rate of retention for student and newly qualified social workers. Tina feels that Barnet’s developing, and investing in, a comprehensive system of workplace support has been a win-win for Barnet and the early career practitioners they employ:

“We have invested in a really good student social work programme, more than 80% of our students apply for newly qualified roles in the borough and more than 70% of our newly qualified social workers (NQSW) remain employed with us longer-term. Our students and NQSW like working here, and for us it’s gold because we’ve already inducted them into our practice approach, they understand how we work.”

Barnet also has an impressive level of conversion for agency staff who work in the borough then choose to become a permanent part of the team. The borough’s ‘community’ feel and inclusive culture helps temporary staff to feel supported, and Tina and her colleagues ensure they always have access to senior staff, fuelling a high rate of conversion to permanent roles.

“I suppose that’s why agency staff stay on and become permanent, they like the way we work, we’re approachable as senior leaders and I like to stay close to practice: I think that’s really important! I need to constantly remind myself what it’s like for practitioners on the ground, and to be able to lend my experience and knowledge in terms of all the different “hats” I wear, is important. It’s complex work so staff need to know we’re alongside them and we have their back.”

For anyone thinking of joining the profession, Tina’s advice was:

“I think you have to do what you care about – if you don’t care about what you do, you won’t enjoy it. If you care about people, and you care about children having the best outcomes, you should go for it, it’s a very rewarding career!”

Tina and the team are always happy to have an informal chat with social workers that would be interested in a role with them, find out more about working in Barnet.