Councils regularly blame problems in social services on high
vacancy rates. Last week, Flintshire Council in Wales said nearly a
third of its child protection team was made up of agency staff
causing problems in case allocation.
Although a national problem it is magnified in London, mainly due
to the higher cost of living in the capital and the more transient
nature of the population – in 2003 vacancy rates were 19 per cent
This scenario prompted Community Care to launch its Care
in the Capital Week in 2002. The aim was not only to increase
awareness of the recruitment crisis among the public, but also
bring decision-makers together to consider their response to the
Since then, there have been reasons to be cheerful about the
long-term prospects for social work recruitment. The launch of the
social work degree, numerous advertising campaigns extolling the
virtues of social work and the introduction of the social work
register have all helped to garner a new sense of professionalism.
In his 2002 report for the campaign, Anthony Douglas, a former
social services director and now chief executive of the Children
and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, highlighted the lack
of stability in social work departments in the capital – the
average stay in a job was nine months.
So have things improved? In some ways they have, Douglas says.
“Generally, local authorities have got better recruitment campaigns
and selection processes, and are more aware of how to keep staff
with individual packages,” he says.
But he adds that the pressures are as bad now as in 2002, with the
cost of housing a particular problem for London councils. Douglas
says more people are being recruited from abroad and good messages
about the profession are being relayed to students, but there is
still much instability in departments, a symptom of which is
“clients still seeing four or five social workers”.
He says councils should establish consortiums to pool ideas about
how to recruit and retain staff rather than compete with one
another for them, but thinks this unlikely to happen.
Andrea Rowe, chief executive of workforce development body Topss
England, says the government’s advertising campaign is linked to
the increase in social work students. Combined with a drop-off in
competition from the Connexions and Sure Start schemes for workers,
the outlook, while still tough, looks more stable for recruitment,
However, Rowe says employers need better retention strategies –
such as increased use of job-sharing – with personal development at
their core rather than just incentives for individual workers.
This year’s Care in the Capital Week shows social work is still
viewed as an undesirable career, with more than half of the public
understanding little or nothing about it.
Report co-author Charlotte Rastan says: “There is work that could
be done on selling the success stories because there is still a lot
of negative media coverage. This is a central problem and one the
government is trying to address.”