Contact Us


Lesley Ward

Group Director
Lesley Ward, Director of Next Step, is a qualified Social Worker who holds the Executive Diploma in Business Management. She is the daughter of the founders of Next Step. Lesley has been involved with the company since 1988 and held the position of Registered Manager from 2002 to 2013. Lesley continues to lead and direct the company with the Senior Management Team overseeing Ryancare Fostering and Safehouses Fostering.

Neil McCarthy and Mary Cattell

Registered Manager
The Registered Manager is Neil McCarthy, a qualified Social Worker with a level 5 Diploma in Leadership and Management. Neil now leads the social work practice across the company and has management responsibility for Ryancare Fostering and Safehouses Fostering. Neil also leads the company on all safeguarding matters. Neil has been involved with Next Step since 2006, initially as an Independent Social Worker Chairing the Panel and undertaking Form F Assessments

Senior Manager
Mary Cattell is the Senior Manager of Next Step managing two offices and assisting Neil in overseeing the social work team. Mary has worked for Next Step since 2001 and has worked as a Link Worker, NVQ Assessor, Complaints Officer and Trainer. Prior to working for Next Step Mary was a foster carer herself for 15 years. Mary comes with a wealth of experience and knowledge working with carers and children across the company.

Daniel Lansley and Gay Williams

Group Quality Assurance Manager
Daniel Lansley is the Quality Assurance Manager whose role is varied. Daniel works with the Senior Management Team overseeing contracts, business relations with Local Authorities, policies and procedures and finance. Daniel has worked for Next Step since 2003 and has worked in the Link Work role, day time support to children, recruitment and referrals. Daniel has built his knowledge and experience within the company having undertaken many roles within it.

Group HR Manager
Gay Williams is the HR Manager and works with the Senior Management Team across the group. Gay is responsible for safer recruitment of all staff and oversees all personnel issues. Gay comes from an HR background and has a wealth of knowledge in working with people. Gay has worked for Next Step since 2010 joining as Office Manager and then taking on the senior position within the company. Gay has 30 years experience  and holds a Masters Degree in Business and Management.

Michelle Batchelor

Children’s Champion
Unlike other Foster agencies, the Next Step Group has a dedicated Children’s Champion, who advocates for all our children making sure that their views, wishes and feelings are heard. Michelle, a qualified Social Worker in her own right, works with both looked after and birth children gathering a range of feedback and views to help us improve our service for all our children. She also arranges fun activities during the school holidays and co-ordinates our involvement in the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme. Find out more  about our Children’s Champion. Michelle is currently on maternity leave, but if you have a question about the Children’s Champion role or any of the activities of events that we run, please contact

The Social Worker and Administrator Team

We have a dedicated staff team of Social Workers and Administrators across the South East of England to work along side our Foster Carers to support them in helping children and young people. In fact, our Social Worker team has a combined knowledge of hundreds of years, ensuring all our Carers are supported by the best people in their area. Our Team are always on hand to ensure our Carers get the very best training, support, advice and sometimes just a cuppa and a chat!

Overseen by our Group’s Registered Manager, Neil McCarthy, the Kent office is our Head Office and so houses a number of additional services and functions for the Group:

Tamara Watkins, Supervising Social Worker. Tamara started her Social Work career in Local Authority Looked After Children and Child Protection teams. She joined Next Step in 2015 and enjoys the varied nature of her role, from working alongside and learning from experienced Foster Carers, through to assessing and supporting those just starting out.

Michelle Batchelor – Supervising Social Worker & Children’s Champion. As outlined above, the Next Step Group has a dedicated Children’s Champion, who advocates for all our children. Michelle, who is based at our Kent office is a qualified Social Worker in her own right and works with both looked after and birth children. (Currently on Maternity leave.)

Lawrence Mercer – Link Worker. Lawrence completes our Social worker team in the Wrens Hill Office and has many years experience working with looked after children within the Fostering environment.

Referrals Team
Our dedicated referrals team carefully match our looked after children with our Foster Carers – taking into account the children’s culture, behaviours and experiences as well as the skills and experience of their potential Foster family.  

Admin support
Our Head Office Social Work Team are supported by our admin and reception team of Lesley, Dawn and Caroline; along with our Panel Support Team of Jane and Lorraine.


Our second largest office is located in Selsdon, Croydon and is overseen by Senior Manager Mary Cattell. She is joined by a number of experienced Supervising Social Workers (SSW), including Andy, Chloe and SSW and Training Manager Sue D. The team is completed by SSW and in-house Counsellor, Denise Q.

The Croydon team are supported by administrators Trish, Lorraine, Jo and Sue C.


Our Essex office is based in Romford. Also managed by our Registered Manager Neil McCarthy, it’s home to Supervising Social Workers Sheree and Amber; and support team of Sabrina and Grace.



Last but not least, our Taplow office serves the whole of the Thames Valley area – stretching from West Berks through Oxfordshire, Bucks and East Berks, all the way to West London. Practice Manager Clare Aston, is supported  by Supervising Social Workers Michelle and Lesley, along with administrator Jane.