LGA and Ed Balls bid to lure back ex-children’s social workers

Children’s secretary Ed Balls and council leaders are bidding to lure back children’s social workers who have left the profession to fill current recruitment gaps.

The Local Government Association today launched an initiative to bring back 5,000 retired children’s social workers to the frontline to help alleviate recruitment difficulties in England.

And Balls has announced that the Department for Children, Schools and Families will target 30,000 qualified and experienced social workers who have left council roles in an attempt to persuade them to return.

While the two initiatives have been launched in parallel, the LGA and DCSF will work together in achieving their aims.

LGA launches campaign

The drive to target people who have left the profession over the past ten years forms part of an LGA campaign to improve recruitment and retention of child social workers.

A survey by the association last year, carried out before the end of the Baby P trial, found that child social work posed councils the hardest recruitment and retention difficulties of any profession.

In a report to mark the start of the campaign, the LGA said councils faced particular problems recruiting and retaining experienced children’s social workers, and said the retirement rate for the group had risen from 0.9% to 1.2% from 2003-6.

Baby P effect

It said the issue had become “more challenging” since Baby P, “threatening to undo the progress made by councils and others in the previous four years”.

LGA chair Margaret Eaton said: “Being a child social worker is one of the toughest jobs in Britain. Encouraging back those who have been at the frontline tirelessly working to save the lives of vulnerable children is key to helping plug the gaps and ensure that we, as a nation, can do everything we can to keep them safe.”

The DCSF is developing a plan to provide re-training for returning social workers and set up a service to match them with prospective employers. A spokesperson said more details would follow.

Balls said there were 5,500 agency staff currently filling posts in councils amid a vacancy rate of around 10%. He said: “With more people in place we can help new social workers to build their confidence and skills by making sure they have a smaller workload and regular support from a more experienced colleague so that they can learn on the job.”

Social workers are ‘unsung heroes’

He added: “Social workers are the unsung heroes of our country – now is the time to back them and I won’t rest until I’m confident we are giving social workers the training, status and support they deserve.”

Unison’s national officer for social care, Helga Pile, said tempting back retired staff would be “tough” as many could have “breathed a sigh of relief” in leaving the profession. She said the LGA’s campaign would only succeed if practitioners were offered a decent wage and adequate support.

The LGA said it would set out a series of measures in the coming weeks to help “recruit the best, retain the brightest and increase the amount of respect” for children’s social workers.

Caution from ADCS

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services gave the LGA campaign a cautious welcome.

President Maggie Atkinson said: “The proposal to persuade former social workers out of retirement, or back into the public sector, may well provide respite for hard pressed children’s services departments. This should not distract from the long-term effort of reforming the profession to attract the brightest and best, to provide them with the best possible initial and continuing training, management, supervision and support, and to retain them in positions that reflect their skills and experience.”

She added: “In the short-term, employers recruiting those who have been out of the profession for a number of years should consider the changes that have taken place in both procedure and practice since the introduction of “Every Child Matters” and ensure returning professionals are aware of their responsibilities within that framework.” 

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