LGA: Baby Peter case hits social worker retention rates

Councils are finding it increasingly difficult to hold on to children’s social workers in the wake of the baby Peter case, according to a Local Government Association survey.

The survey found that six out of 10 councils were experiencing problems retaining children’s social workers, up from four out of 10 councils 12 months ago.

This is more than double the number of councils reporting retention problems for adult social work, the second most affected area.

The news comes despite a third of those councils (34%) experiencing recruitment and retention difficulties boosting salaries for children’s social workers.

Shireen Ritchie, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said the way serious cases were reported in the media was playing a part: “The vilification of children’s social workers has increased the risk of harm to some children by opening up gaps in the safety net which works so hard to protect them.

“During the past 12 months too many social workers have clearly decided the strain of this difficult work is more than they can handle,” she added. “The commitment of those who have remained must not be underestimated.”

The government is investing £109m over the next two years in better support for the workforce, including attracting social workers back to job with a hard-hitting recruitment campaign.

“We want social workers to be a high quality, self-confident profession, with full confidence of the public,” said children’s minister Delyth Morgan. “Historic recruitment and retention issues are not going to end overnight, but it is right that local authorities and employers are now actively addressing them.”

However, shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton blamed the retention problems on the government’s “fixation with micro management”.

“By obsessing over bureaucracy rather than working conditions they have drained social work’s lifeblood as experienced professionals are driven out and talented young people discouraged from coming in,” he said.

Helga Pile, national officer for social services at Unison, said social workers would continue to leave their jobs unless action was taken to tackle the underlying reasons.

“Many are working under intolerable pressure,” she said. “We need to address this by setting national standards for caseloads, investing to boost the number of social workers, and cutting bureaucracy.”

Separate research by the LGA in July showed more than half of councils (60%) felt it had become more difficult to recruit children’s social workers since October 2008.

A third (34%) said retention has also worsened, with frontline staff the most affected.

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