Kelly Paynter describes joining Cafcass as a Newly Qualified Social Worker during the pandemic.
I started working at Cafcass in September 2020. I didn’t expect to end up here, but it is honestly the best decision I have made and I’ll tell you why.
I graduated in November 2019 after completing my social work postgraduate degree. I had previously been working in Early Help and the Youth Offending Service. This was my first experience of writing court reports and attending court – which would later prove to be a transferable skill for Cafcass. I had always been afraid of child protection, but youth offending includes safeguarding work and child protection cases. I made a quick decision to train as a social worker. I completed a fast track course and next thing I knew I was qualified and looking for a newly qualified position.
Then the global pandemic hit. There was a lot of uncertainty for everyone and I had no idea how or when I would complete my Assessed and Supported Year (ASYE). Then, one day I saw the advert for Cafcass. I had heard about Cafcass before. I thought they did court work in some capacity, but I wasn’t really sure how it worked.
The advert included video links about the role of a ‘Family Court Adviser’. The role included working with children and families in the family court process dealing with private law and public law cases. I didn’t really know the difference. I did my research and realised private law included applications for child arrangement orders and name changes. I remember a Family Court Adviser saying, ‘No two days are the same’. One day could include the variety of working from home, attending court, home visits, interviewing children in the office.
The application process happened in stages. Cafcass offered a virtual event to talk about the role, which feels like yesterday and a while ago too. It was daunting, as there were over 100 attendees! I remember thinking “I’m out of my depth here!” but I applied, nonetheless. The process involved an application, telephone interview and then a video interview. I was interviewed by the Head of Practice, Team Manager and someone involved in a Cafcass case. Everyone was friendly and patient with me when my camera wouldn’t turn on!
I was offered a job and started quite quickly. I received my laptop, mobile phone, ID badge and hand sanitizer (for home visits/office appointments) by 10am on my first day. I had a phone call with my Team Manager and Practice Supervisor to welcome me into the team, and was booked on to inductions and training courses. Despite the pandemic, everything was organised and ready for me when I started. I couldn’t believe how painless my induction process was.
I have been at Cafcass for six months now and it has gone so quickly! Everyone is busy but friendly, and I’ve been able to shadow colleagues to observe how they do things. The first thing I have learned about Cafcass is that they don’t teach you this stuff in university. I barely learned about private law cases and they’re so interesting. The cases I’ve worked on have involved a diverse range of issues including mental health, parental alienation, substance misuse, transgender parenting, coercive behaviour and control and child abuse. I’ve learnt so much in such a short space of time and I’m sure it doesn’t end there.
This is a three-year programme which includes my ASYE in the first year, the second year there is a secondment to the local authority and third year an opportunity to study further. The learning never ends and continues throughout the programme. It feels like it has really been thought out to ensure that when you complete your ASYE you will feel confident in your knowledge and skills as a social worker. I am looking forward to it. The role is difficult and has been challenging. However, it is also really rewarding to meet different families, learn new things and to work for a service that is committed to working with children and families.