A new human rights based leadership programme is being developed with investment from SCIE and the support of the National Mental health Development Unit and University of Central Lancashire.

The programme aims to meet the challenges delivering on New Horizons and personalisation. Aimed at the imperative of building confidence in mental health social work leaders, it will open up to mixed cohorts of leaders in the future.

The programme is already gaining support from NHS and Council leaders alike.Chief executive of South West London and St George’s Trust, Judy Wilson said: ‘We already invest in social work and social care professional leadership at all levels of our organisation, but we need to do more. This new programme will help develop the confidence of the social work staff who are vital to our vision and to develop socially-focused leadership across the system’.

New Horizons makes mental health everyone’s business. The emphasis is on intervening early to maximise social inclusion and to minimise dependence. It envisages enabling people to use services to exercise their rights and their authority more effectively. Realising this ambition requires effective leadership within the complex systems of support involved. This leadership needs to model and operate from values concerning the rights of people using services, their personal journeys of recovery and their roles in communities.

The adoption of governing principles and changes to the Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) role along with the Mental Health Act amendments emphasise the system-wide commitment to a greater “social perspective”in mental health.

The opening up of the AMHP role to professionals other than social workers has in turn led to a re-evaluation of the unique contribution social workers make in mental health. They are well placed to take leadership roles in the areas of personalisation and the use of self directed support, such as Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults and Children, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and other legislative change. These make the role of social workers more central than ever.

Chief executive of Camden and Islington Foundation Trust, Wendy Wallace, says, “Social care work is core business to us now. We need social workers with enhanced leadership and professional skills to help deliver better social care outcomes in areas such as safeguarding and personalisation”

The primary aims of this six-day programme are to:

  • Increase the confidence of mental health social workers to lead and influence the development of mental health services within a values framework informed by an understanding of human rights and social justice
  • Ensure social work leaders are able to lead delivery of social care within integrated and complex service and community systems
  • Enable staff to embrace the challenges and opportunities of personalisation
  • Support innovation and independence in multi-professional AMHP services and practice

An unusual feature of the programme is the emphasis on equipping social workers to mentor others in the complex attitudinal skills involved in actively promoting human rights and social justice.

It will also focus on the development of models in effective advocacy on individual and systems levels, skills in collaboration and working within systems.

This includes approaches to developing cultures for improvement through appreciative approaches that create an engaging vision of a preferred future, celebrating the best of what people and the organisations they work in bring to their work. This maximises everyone’s energy, passion and involvement with the task of creating meaningful and measurable change. 

There is an emphasis on self development via peer action and learning sets, additional coaching,and project work and on regional networking to promote sustainable development.  The programme will be linked into the post-qualifying framework for social work, and academic accreditation is being sought.

Two pilot sites in London and in the north have been established where the programme will be tested and reviewed. A reference group has been established, drawing from staff and users involved in children and adult services, human rights organisations and legal advocate and social work professional bodies.

With the programme’s focus on releasing leadership capacity within local living systems of care and support, we anticipate many undreamed of benefits.

Steve Onyett is a solution focused coach, facilitator and researcher. Ruth Allen is director of social work at South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust. Karen Linde is a senior research fellow at the University of Leeds.Claire Barcham is National Coordinator AMHP Leads Network, AMHP training and development coordinator Camden and Islington Foundation Trust.