We are a social enterprise not-for-profit venture, formed in March 2010. We work with children, families and vulnerable adults to provide protection, safeguarding, empowerment, problem-solving skills and support.
The concept of the SWEET Project emerged in 2009 after Jayne Hulbert and Jayne Cresswell were made redundant from a national charity as part of a process which culminated in the closure of much-needed family support services for the residents of South Birmingham. Having worked in the area for over 10 years, the two Jaynes decided they would try to re-establish a service for families in need. Between 2009 and 2010, they began to research the possibility of setting up a family support service. Many ideas offered potential. In the early days, the significant obstacles which had to be overcome included the provision of suitable office accommodation and the acquisition of financial and business expertise
The breakthrough for the project came from its emerging relationship with the University of Birmingham. The SWEET model of family support started to emerge. The Jaynes were able to draw on their knowledge of student placement provision and of the pressing social needs that existed in Birmingham. Their idea was simple and had two aims: on the one hand, to find a workable means of meeting the needs of families and adults; at the same time, to improve the quality of placement learning opportunities for student social workers. But would it be possible to combine the two? The SWEET Project was born out of this question.
The SWEET Project is committed to helping families and adults in Birmingham to meet the challenges they face on a daily basis. One of our key aims is to ensure that families and adults in the greatest need receive a specific level of support to help them overcome their difficulties. The support offered is essential, often provided where other agencies do not offer any or where their support has ended. We are committed to building strong relationships with families and adults.
The SWEET Project is motivated by a belief that we can make a difference for all children. We believe that support for the whole family is frequently the answer to problems. With the right help, committed support and conviction even the most at-risk children can be supported to identify and reach their individual aspirations. Equally, we are committed to providing the highest quality practice learning placements combined with equipping student social workers with the skills needed to be first class social workers.
It cannot be denied that the last year has been a very challenging one for the SWEET Project. The year began in September 2014 and we were facing the prospect of having to bridge the gap created by the reduction in Education Support Grant funding. This effectively wiped out one third of our income and, with a huge deficit looming, we were forced to explore other options available to us to ensure that we were able to continue to provide quality placements whilst delivering vital services throughout South Birmingham.
One of the first things we did was to talk to the many schools we were working in at the time and offer them the opportunity of buying our services at very reasonable rates. The response from schools has been very positive and we now have a number of agreements in place through which we are providing holistic, tailor-made support for children, young people and their families. This work in schools has strengthened our relationships with Head Teachers and Family Support staff and we hope to increase the number of schools considerably over the coming year.
In addition, we were able to secure a contract with Birmingham City Council who commissioned us to pilot family assessments on behalf of Children’s Services South, which means we were one of only a few voluntary sector agencies delivering statutory assessments. The pilot was successful and is now being rolled out across Birmingham. These two major steps forward have helped bridge the gap and have, without doubt, improved the relationship we have with two of our key partners. We have consolidated a secure partnership with Birmingham City Council and look forward to productive and exciting collaboration.
We have secured placements from four new universities, Manchester, Gloucester, Keele and Worcester, and we have our first student from Bath lined up for September, which takes our university base to thirty-one. We hope to increase this further in 2015/2016.
Three students who were offered an internship under the collaboration agreement with The Open University have successfully completed their first placement and will return in February 2016 to commence their final placement with us. Applications are now open for the second phase.
We have received many visitors throughout the year, amongst them Lord Warner, who was appointed the Government's Commissioner for Birmingham’s troubled Children’s Services. The meeting took place in March 2015 and was an opportunity for us to share ideas regarding Student Social Work Training and the pilot for family assessments. The Bishop of Birmingham visited us during Lent as part of the "End Hunger Fast" campaign; and the author Siobhan McCloud, who is a regular visitor to SWEET, met with student social workers to provide valuable discussions about the theories, methods and models of social work. The feedback received from the students was excellent.
The SWEET Project is proud to announce a renewed opportunity available to Open University students who do not currently have employer sponsorship. Find out more here.
The Department of Health held a consultation last year to review the Educational Support Grant, which is the pot of money that funds the student placements at the SWEET Project. We were not involved in the consultation and so, on the 19th May, when we became aware that the placement fee was to be reduced from £28 to £20 per day per student, the news came as a complete and devastating shock. This will effectively reduce our income by a third next year. It could be catastrophic for the local community which we currently support in South Birmingham as the SWEET Project will struggle to remain in business and we are the only provider of support services in the area. The reduction comes into force from September 2014 so we have very little time to act. We are currently contacting all schools, universities and the Local Authority to discuss what support they can offer us at this difficult time.
We accept referrals from a wide range of agencies such as the health service, the police, fire services, domestic abuse projects, TESS, children's centres, primary and secondary schools, signposting services, adult day centres, GPs and community psychiatric nurses. This supplements the 48% of our workload which is referred by the Local Authority. We are therefore able to provide practice learning opportunities of high quality that meet the HCPC's requirements for statutory placements.
Since the Project opened, we have taken more than 600 first- and final-placement student social workers from 31 universities across the country (figures updated in July 2015).