Lesley Osei studied Neurosciences at Baites College in Maine, USA, graduating in 2005 and is a Contracts Manager for Children and Adult Social Services with Southwark Council.
She is the eldest of 5 children born to Ghanaian refugees who moved to England in the 1980s, a mother of 2 and a Pastor’s wife.
Finally, we get to have this conversation! What does your work involve?
I’m responsible for ensuring contract and performance management of a range of services for children, adults and families. These include care at home, supported housing, nursing home care, advocacy services, fostering, children leaving care, hostels for the homeless, services for children with special educational needs and children’s speech and language services.
With that, I oversee a large portfolio of contracts with a spend of over £80 million. Through leading a team of Contract Monitoring Officers and Business Support Officers, I ensure that we carry out inspections and that services are quality assured and held accountable against service specifications. I also represent the council on matters such as press releases, coroner’s enquiries, complaints, members enquiries and MPs enquiries.
How did you get into this role?
I’ve worked in Southwark Council for 13 years, starting as an Administrative Officer, moving up to a Project Support Officer, then a Contracts Monitoring Officer until I was promoted to Contracts Manager. For this role, I had to compete with people I had worked with for some years and it was a bit awkward! But I was encouraged to apply so I had to give it my best shot and I got it. In between all these roles, I’d also been seconded to others meaning I got to expand my skill set and widen my network.
How has the provision of social care changed in the time you’ve been in the field?
It’s changed dramatically. There is now the concept of ‘personalisation’ meaning a shift away from institutionalised care as we try to keep more people living in their own homes and in the community, and less in care and nursing homes. The focus is on more tailored care, choice and control which is a really good concept.
The challenge is that this is all happening in an austere financial climate, where we have seen several cuts to our budgets, meaning that services that people have enjoyed for years have had to be decommissioned. We’ve had to rationalise and run contracts a lot more efficiently than in the past.
In terms of trends in services, we’ve seen a rise in mental health needs across all services from children, adults and older adults and sadly, a shocking increase in sexual assaults amongst and against vulnerable groups. We all speculate that the internet and social media may be having an impact on these emerging trends as well as increased awareness meaning that people can report these issues. The latter is of course a good thing.
What’s great about your job?
Definitely the people! I have a great team of some of the nicest people you could ever know. We are quite a stable group, so we’ve worked together for many years. The people you work with make a huge difference to your job and I work with some pretty amazing human beings who genuinely care for others.
I also feel fulfilled, as it feels as though I’m giving back to the community that I grew up in. You know, Southwark was the first borough that welcomed my family when we moved to the UK as refugees from Ghana. I attended nursery and primary in the borough so lived here for most of my childhood before moving to Surrey. So, in many ways the area has shaped who I am today.
What’s not so great about your job?
It can be quite stressful. There are lots of deadlines and the pressure to get things right can be heavy. Then, as you move up in the organisation there are some quite strong personalities! I guess it comes with more responsibility.
It sounds like your job can be intense! How do you unwind?
I unwind with music mostly, especially Hillsong Worship or artists like Joe Mettle, Travis Greene, Mary Mary, Lauren Daigle and Tasha Cobbs.
To be honest, I couldn’t do without prayer in the morning. I like praying with Cindy Trimm’s recorded prayers and I take part in a prayer army called MOGPA – based in Ghana – that you can join by radio or by phone. I enjoy spending time with God before my husband and kids get up in the morning. It’s a refreshing time that sets me up for the day.
You are a faithful Christian and a Pastor’s wife. How do you reconcile what you witness or hear with God’s hands on this earth?
Working in social services means you sometimes see the worst of humanity. We come across incidents where people are severely abused and neglected whether financially, physically, sexually and mentally. It’s enough to break your heart.
However, I also see the best of humanity, and it’s important to remember that there are thousands and thousands of people who care for others for free, going out of their way to help their families or others in need. I believe such people are God’s hands on this earth and I feel privileged that I too get to partner with them in their acts of service.
When I’m conducting investigations, giving service users a voice and seeking the best for the residents of Southwark, I’m working with God to restore people’s sense of worth and dignity. To do that for people who feel forgotten or disadvantaged is a blessing. There is nothing more rewarding than that.