The Camden Model of Social Work and our tips to support whole system change

20 March 2019

Here at the Tavistock and Portman we are working with Camden Children’s Services to develop and embed a systemic model of social work, enabling a collaborative process of shared learning and accountability through group supervision. We’d like to tell you a little more about this exciting initiative, including our top tips to support whole system change.

The programme

We delivered a five-day programme to staff at every level of the service, from social workers to the Director, to introduce systemic theory and practice. Ongoing consultation to the senior management team focused on a systemic approach to leadership and management. The greatest investment of time and resource was directed at the senior practitioners responsible for supervising social work practice, to embed and sustain the systemic supervision, which is key to the Camden social work model. Each senior practitioner received regular live supervision and mentoring, using an adapted version of the ‘Bells that Ring’ model which allocates roles and structure to supervision discussion (Proctor, 1997).

A group of Systemic Champions was established to promote the benefits of the model across the organisation, embed systemic principles in organisational culture, and challenge the management team where staff encountered. The second phase of the programme provided support to the Champions in order to build the internal capacity of the organisation to sustain the model.

The Champions are self-selecting, representative of all parts of the service, and motivated to achieve and support change. The organic, grass-roots nature of the champions means that the group has real life experience ‘on the ground’ – they hold currency when making recommendations to peers and senior management.

To address staff turnover, a series of one-off workshops called ‘systemic conversations’ was co-developed and delivered by the Tavistock mentors with the Champions. A practice guide and online training resources are being developed.


Overall, senior practitioners were positive about their experiences of live mentoring and experienced this training as an investment in them. However, some did find it challenging and exposing at times. A survey in July 2018 found that 80% of staff felt that the systemic group supervision was either always helpful or often helpful. When asked whether systemic practice helps to ensure that a child’s needs are at the centre of our practice, 80% said yes, 13% not sure, and 7% no. The qualitative responses to the survey were powerful and supported the Champions to celebrate the strengths of the model but also to challenge the organisation to further develop the culture and procedures.

The Champions have facilitated bi-monthly sessions at extended managers meetings. Managers have stated that these sessions have supported a better understanding of the challenges teams face and promoted a culture of respectful professional challenge across the organisation – keeping the child at the heart of what they do at all times.

Camden received a ‘Good’ Ofsted report in November 2017 with ‘Outstanding’ in some areas. The Camden Model of Social Work programme was positively commended in the inspection report executive summary:

“Social workers enjoy working in Camden and benefit from manageable caseloads and analytical, reflective group supervision. This is underpinned by systemically trained senior practitioners, working cohesively with highly skilled child and adolescent mental health services staff who are integrally located across frontline services. This allows social workers to explore and implement imaginative and bold approaches to assess and support families.”

Tips to support whole system change

  • Promote consistent messages across all levels
  • Create mechanisms for different levels of staff to come together to share and work collaboratively to embed the model
  • When training, mixed cohorts worked well, with specific interventions for different levels of staff depending on their role.
  • Clearly articulate a Theory of Change: having an aim, outcomes and what they can be measured against will be helpful to have a robust and thorough evaluation to demonstrate the impact that a programme has on practice.

Next steps, call to action, request for feedback

Further developments of the programme include widening the approach within the wider multi-disciplinary context. Camden’s DfE Innovation project focusing on young people aged 10-13 years old identified as at risk of going into care, is using the systemic model as a framework for the multi-agency planning process.


Dugmore, P., Partridge, K., Sethi, I., & Krupa-Flasinska, M. (2018). Systemic supervision in statutory social work in the UK: systemic rucksacks and bells that ring. European Journal of Social Work, 21(3), 400-414.

Proctor, K. (1997). The bells that ring: A process for group supervision. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 18(4), 217-220.

Ofsted. (2017). Inspection of services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers and Review of the effectiveness of the Local Safeguarding Children Board. London: Ofsted.

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By James Owen, Karen Partridge, and Paul Dugmore

James is an Independent Reviewing Officer and chair of the Systemic Champions group within Camden Children’s Services. Karen is the Systemic Development Lead and Paul is Consultant Social Worker and Portfolio Manager for social care at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.

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