The council with the highest vacancy rate in the UK has blamed its recruitment crisis on public spending cuts, competition with neighbouring authorities and an “exodus” of social workers after the Baby P case in November 2008.
With 38% of posts unfilled, Thurrock Council in Essex has a rate more than three times the national average.
Of 110 posts in children’s and adults’ services, 42 were vacant as of June 2010, with a vacancy rate of 35% in children’s services and 52% in adults’ services.
A local charity that works alongside the authority in supporting looked-after children, Open Door, says service suffered after the council imposed a recruitment freeze on social work posts earlier this year.
Kersten Bower, project manager for advocacy services at Open Door, says children had reported their social workers becoming more inaccessible in recent months.
“It can be very frustrating because when you’re a young person and you’ve got a problem, it’s the most important thing in the world, and having to wait a day or a couple of days can seem like an eternity,” she says.
An Ofsted report from an unannounced inspection, published last December, found caseloads were manageable and assessments were being completed on time. However, Bower says the situation in Thurrock had worsened since the government announced in May £1.1bn spending cuts for England’s councils in this financial year.
A spokesperson for Thurrock confirms “a slowdown” in recruitment for all staff, including social workers, as a result.
The staff shortage is exacerbated by competition for social workers with nearby Essex Council and London boroughs, he says.
The spokesperson says the council’s children’s services department is working closely with partner agencies through the local children’s trust and “carefully managing” all case closures.