Is a £2m campaign enough to revitalise the social care
£2m campaign to improve the image of social care is designed
to boost morale and recruitment. But other public sector workers
have had rather more, reports Clare Jerrom.
Social workers will have just cause for celebration this week as
the government takes steps to address the sector’s severe staff
shortages, with the launch of the first ever national social work
Funding to the tune of £2m will be injected into the
three-year initiative, due to be launched by health secretary Alan
Milburn at this week’s National Social Services Conference in
campaign hopes to dispel the negative image associated with the
profession, to educate the public about social work, and to provide
information on career options. It will receive national press and
radio coverage, although these efforts will be largely concentrated
in areas such as the South East where recruitment and retention
problems are more acute (News, page 3, 23 August).
Information booklets explaining social work and social care work,
and how to embark on a career in either, will accompany the
campaign. Public relations work will also be undertaken to raise
the profile of social work generally, and a response line and
website will be established to deal with enquiries.
drive follows last year’s revelation by the Local Government
Association that 63 per cent of local authorities were experiencing
problems recruiting social workers.
According to Department of Health figures, some London boroughs
were reporting a vacancy rate for qualified social workers of 40
per cent last year.
further study of social services departments in England this year
by the Association of Directors of Social Services found an overall
vacancy rate for field social worker posts in child protection of
14.7 per cent – indicating 2,000 empty posts (News, page 8, 27
inspector of social services Denise Platt blames the crisis on the
negative image surrounding social work.
image is generated predominantly by negative media coverage, which
usually concentrates on a small number of controversial cases, with
very little media attention being directed to the many successes or
the highly important nature of the job,” Platt said in August in a
letter to directors of social services outlining the campaign.
timing of this campaign coincides with two such high-profile
“controversial cases”: the inquiry into the death of eight-year-old
Victoria Climbie and the trial of the stepmother of six-year-old
Lauren Wright who died in May 2000.
Victoria was abused by her great- aunt Marie-Therese Kouao and her
boyfriend Carl Manning, eventually dying from neglect and
malnutrition in February 2000. Both received life sentences for
murder. But individual social workers have already been fingered by
the media for failing to prevent such a tragedy.
separate case this month, Tracey Wright was found guilty of causing
the death of her step-daughter, Lauren. Craig Wright, Lauren’s
father, was found guilty of manslaughter.
the ensuing media interviews, Norfolk social services director
David Wright admitted there had been “crucial mistakes” which, if
avoided, could have saved Lauren’s life (News, page 7, 4
against this backdrop of negative publicity that the Department of
Health’s recruitment campaign will be launched. The question is,
then, whether its message will be strong enough to counteract the
images created by the rare but emotive cases of the Victorias and
Laurens of this world?
thing which may hinder the campaign’s success is its level of
investment. The £2m may sound a lot, but looks pitifully small
when compared with the amounts spent on recruitment campaigns for
other public sector workers.
Teaching and the police, for example, both received high-profile
television campaigns earlier this year. Bearing in mind a 30-second
slot transmitted in the Carlton regions of London in peak-time
evening hours costs between £12,000 and £49,000, it is
safe to say no expense was spared on advertising in these
March this year, £35m was invested in a teacher recruitment
and retention fund for 2001-2, with a promise of similar amounts in
funding was designed to develop solutions such as housing
subsidies, child care support, travel costs and additional salary
rises of £3,000 were offered to experienced teachers, the
existing £4,000 “golden hello” scheme for subjects with
particular shortages was extended, and qualified ex-teachers were
given welcome-back bonuses.
Similarly, nurses were tempted back to the NHS with promises of
£1,000 bonuses. A total of £30m was invested in improving
child care facilities for NHS staff, and £100,000 was spent on
a recruitment campaign for nurses in the South East alone.
there are significant differences between the social work
recruitment campaign and these other campaigns. Rather than
including promises of cash incentives, this time the emphasis is
solely on lifting the profession’s negative image and educating the
some, such stark differences suggest the government is not taking
social work as seriously as other public sector professions.
Similar concerns were raised over the starter home initiative
launched this summer to help public sector staff working in
high-cost areas to get onto the first rung of the property ladder.
While loans were made available to 3,992 nurses, 2,817 teachers and
892 police officers, social workers were left to fight with fire
fighters and transport workers over the remaining 311 loans
available (News, page 6, 13 September).
According to vice-chairperson of the ADSS human resources and
training committee, Hilary Simon, the national recruitment campaign
is a good start but must be sustained. She says recruitment issues
in social work are complex, warning that “no one button is going to
provide the magic answer”.
we know is the image has been severely shaken by a succession of
tragic incidents and national inquiries,” she adds. “What has not
been communicated is all the good work social workers do.”
local authorities are turning to their own solutions, which
suggests the national campaign has not instilled confidence all
Wilson, director of social services at the east London borough of
Tower Hamlets, believes “it is unlikely that such initiatives,
though welcome, can be relied upon to solve the problem”.
says his council is tackling recruitment locally through providing
free training to people from the Bangladeshi, Somali and
African-Caribbean communities who would otherwise have been
1997, the council has had a secondment programme to Diploma in
Social Work courses in place for 10 people from these groups. It
also funds four people per year on a graduate entry trainee scheme
for social work.
Despite the £610,000 annual cost of the secondment scheme,
Wilson sees it as a good investment and part of a long-term
recruitment strategy: “It is our belief that black and Asian people
from the local community are the long-term solution to the
professional staffing of our directorate; people committed to
living and working in this community, and serving the needs of our
service-users in all their diversity.”
second east London borough is also turning to local solutions. From
next April, Newham Council will be the first local authority to
offer performance-related pay to social workers in a bid to tackle
recruitment and retention (News, page 6, 6 September). The 300
social workers who meet performance targets are to receive bonuses
addition, the council is planning to offer “market supplements” of
£3,000 to staff in its children’s assessment and
children-in-need teams who stay with the council for two years.
From October, pay scales will also be increased by two
government’s national social work recruitment campaign follows the
LGA and Community Care joint awareness campaign “You Can Make a
Difference”, launched in March.
the time, the then social care minister John Hutton pledged his
support, saying the move was a positive beginning but would take
ongoing commitment to turn things around (News, page 3, 22
ongoing commitment is essential if we are ever to slash vacancy
rates, challenge the negative perception of the profession, boost
morale, and place social work on a level playing field with
teaching, policing and nursing.
Whether this recruitment campaign and its £2m budget will be
enough to do that remains to be seen. But the first step at least
has been taken: social work as a profession is at last in the
spotlight, and the government has acknowledged publicly that it is
an area that needs resources, a make-over, and a lot of hard
Hilary Simon says: “We have seen a turnaround in teachers. People
recognise the teaching profession as one that should be respected
and nurtured. Their campaign has worked – let’s just hope ours has
the same outcome.”