Essex flying the flag at Social Worker of the Year Awards

Essex is celebrating after an incredible NINE nominations in the Social Worker of the Year Awards – making up more than 10 per cent of the shortlisted entries nationwide!

Of the 78 finalists, Essex County Council’s flagship approach to social work has secured nominations in six categories, including social worker of the year, team of the year and best employer.

Among the nominees are Essex’s Family Operations team, which is now championing best practice nationwide, a social worker who helped an orphan asylum seeker at risk of radicalisation, and another who helped safeguard a child at risk of sexual exploitation. (Explained below)

Cllr Dick Madden, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Adults and Children, said: “We’re serious about social work in Essex and our approach focuses on supporting and empowering our residents to achieve the positive outcomes they want.

“The Social Worker of the Year Awards are a fantastic way of celebrating the contribution all our social workers make, as well as a chance to highlight the specific skills and experience they utilise to improve the lives of local people.

“I’m delighted our social workers are receiving the recognition they deserve. To make up more than 10 per cent of the shortlist nationwide is testament to our dedication and innovative approach.

“I would like to wish everyone who has been shortlisted the very best of luck at the awards ceremony next month.”

The Social Worker of the Year Awards 2016 will take place on Friday, 25 November, in London.

Garry McCord, Chief Executive Officer of Servelec Corelogic, who are sponsoring this year’s Creative and Innovative Social Work Practice category in partnership with ECC, said: “We are extremely proud to jointly sponsor the Creative and Innovative Social Work Practice category alongside our partner, Essex County Council.

“We are inspired by the ongoing commitment, dedication and care demonstrated by social workers. The work they do plays a key role in driving forward the delivery of the new care models and transforming the lives of vulnerable children and adults.”

For more information about the Social Worker of the Year Awards please see


Principal Social Worker of the Year – Mandy Nightingale
Best Social Work Employer – Family Operations, ECC
Team Leader of the Year, Children’s Services – Bianka Lang
Team Leader of the Year, Adult Services – Shirley Semple
Team of the Year, Children’s Services – Fostering Recruitment and Assessment Team
Team of the Year, Adult Services – Older People Tendring Team 1
Newly Qualified Children’s Social Worker of the Year – Connie Hazell
Children’s Social Worker of the Year – Aimee Weston, Danielle Martin 


Danielle Martin, Children’s Social Worker of the Year
Danielle, 40, from Southend, has played a vital part in changing children’s and families lives. Having previously worked with young people with drug and alcohol problems, learning difficulties and behavioural issues, Danielle now works in the Children In Care team. She works directly with 17 children, and has played a vital role in returning many youngsters to their homes where possible, or by linking them with foster carers or progressing adoption applications.

She was praised for her work with a young person with complex mental health needs, who was at high risk of sexual exploitation. Her nominator said: “Danielle is successfully keeping this young person out of a residential setting, preventing isolation and promoting family and social life and social skills. This is an ongoing and extremely complex case, one in which the young person needed her to remain committed and steadfast on her support.”

Shirley Semple, Team Leader of the Year, Adult Services

Shirley, a veteran of 21 years’ service in Essex, was praised for her strong leadership skills during several restructures of the Older People Community Team (north) which she manages in Tendring.

As well as managing the complex logistics of various reshuffles, and ensuring her team were equipped to meet the new legislation of the Care Act 2014, she led the way in improving peoples’ lives by integrating health, housing and other community organisations to deliver a more joined-up approach. 

Bianka Lang, Team Leader of the Year, Children’s Services

“Inspirational” Bianka Lang was praised by colleagues for lifting morale.

Her nominator said: “We refer to her as our ‘silent champion’. She sits at the same desk, often arriving first every morning, ready to encourage her team no matter how challenging the task, and asks for nothing in return. She is the best motivator and leads by example. When you feel like this is a thankless role and no one appreciates what you do, she steps in to encourage you and acknowledges your hard work.  She sets the bar for other managers.”

Older People Tendring Team 1, Team of the Year, Adult Services

This “creative and passionate” team has embraced a complete cultural overhaul of its working practices during a very challenging year of change.

As well as revamping the way it works to comply with the new Care Act legislation, the Older People Tendring Team has coped with the introduction of a new social care management system, as well as being split into smaller more geographically-focussed teams.

Working with people over the age of 65 and their carers, the team strives to enhance people’s lives – with dementia a particular challenge – despite regularly encountering safeguarding issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and dysfunctional families often with their own agendas.

The team has led the way in promoting better outcomes for adults and their families by working with community matrons, GP Care advisors, housing officers and the customer service team.

Family Operations, Best Social Work Employer

The Family Operations team has seen a dramatic turnaround after ECC was placed on an improvement notice in 2009, and has enjoyed incredible, consistent and sustained improvement in the service to a point where not only are children and families in Essex better served, but it is now supporting other local authorities across the country to develop their practice.

Cllr Dick Madden, the Lead Member for Children and Adults Social Care and former child protection detective chief inspector, has played a vital role in the development of social work practice nationally, alongside senior managers Dave Hill, Executive Director of People Commissioning and Helen Lincoln, Executive Director of People Operations. 

The nomination papers read: “Helen is widely regarded by those who know her as an exceptional individual both personally and professionally. Her experience and tenacity have enabled her to drive forward changes while taking the workforce with her.

“Most importantly Dave, Helen and Cllr Madden would all be equally happy visiting a family to undertake an assessment as they would be sitting in a strategic meeting planning budgets. This overall understanding and commitment to social work has enabled them to create the culture in which ECC now thrives.”

Aimee Weston, Children’s Social Worker of the Year

Alongside her regular case load of children, 26-year old Aimee from Uttlesford, works on the front line with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Essex.

With a First Class Social Work degree, Aimee - just three years into the job - is using every spare moment to study for a Masters in Advanced Social Work Practice.

Her nominator said: “I first saw her passion for social work when I heard her speak about a case. It was almost magical to see this quiet girl come to life, bursting with enthusiasm as she talked so passionately about her work. She is a social worker who doesn’t only think outside the box, she breaks the box completely.”

She was also praised for her unique approach to engaging with non-English speaking children struggling to converse with an interpreter. She plays badminton with youngsters to build a relationship and encourage them to open up about their problems.

Aimee was also congratulated for helping a young asylum seeker – at risk of radicalisation and terrorism – get the help he needed before being integrated into society.

“Aimee was steadfast in her approach, constantly fighting for the case to be considered, fighting to meet criteria for interventions, spending hours at meetings presenting her case and challenging professionals way higher than her. She has gone above and beyond. The outcome for this young person has seen him slowly released from his secure unit and reintegrated back into society. He is now engaging with all professionals, attending key work sessions, accepting educational tuition and, for the first time, is being bought to a social activity event with other children.”

Connie Hazell

Connie has empowered young people and their families to find their own solutions to their problems.

She has encountered families with a variety of needs, such as substance or alcohol misuse, mental health concerns, parental learning difficulties, unemployment, anti-social behaviour,  behavioural issues, safeguarding children and adult protection procedures, children’s emotional and physical wellbeing or education isolation, to name a few.

As part of Connie’s Masters degree, she completed a dissertation in relation to Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). ECC capitalised on Connie’s soon to be published research and development in this area as she was part of a campaign delivered to local schools around recognising and understanding CSE.

Her nominator said: “Connie has undertaken increasingly complex work and she has completed it to a high standard in a timely way. Connie has formed good relationships with service users and has been creative in working with families to produce results.

“She has a wealth of understanding and empathy that goes beyond her years. Having personally dealt with some difficult and traumatic events, I believe she has gained more insight and understanding when working with families dealing with issues of unresolved grief, loss and trauma.”

Fostering Recruitment and Assessment Team

Set up in 2008, the rapidly expanding Fostering Recruitment Team is committed to recruiting foster carers who can meet the needs of the most complex and vulnerable children in Essex.

The innovative and creative nature of the team has been key in successfully recruiting foster carers tailored to the needs of children in every corner of the county.

“The passion and commitment to get this right for our children and young people is the backbone of our team and every decision we make,” the nomination papers said.

“We use social media, radio and newspaper advertising, as well as spending time in the community meeting prospective foster carers and their families. We work with voluntary agencies, libraries and family friendly attractions in our communities to help us spread the word about the need to recruit foster carers.

“The strong and positive working relationships we developed with our foster carers make the task of recruitment much more realistic, enjoyable and achievable.”

Mandy Nightingale, Principal Social Worker of the Year

During her time as Principal Child and Family Social Worker in Essex County Council’s Family Operations (FO) service, Mandy managed the service through a period of significant transformation and helped contribute to Ofsted’s ‘Good’ rating, just four years after it issued an improvement notice.


She was also responsible for the learning and development of 1,400 staff within Family Operations, including 900 social workers, 600 alternatively qualified staff, and 700 foster carers. Mandy has taken the skills and experience from her time at ECC to her new HMI role within Ofsted.


Division: Servelec HSC