Kirklees Council children’s director, Alison O’Sullivan, says staff will have manageable workloads under the Yorkshire and Humber pledge
A campaign across 15 councils in northern England is looking to boost recruitment for children’s social work roles. Kirsty McGregor reports
The challenge facing children’s services in Yorkshire and the Humber, as in many parts of the country, is twofold. A record number of children – more than 74,000 – have received help and support from social workers over the past year. And these rising referrals are set against an average vacancy rate across Yorkshire’s children’s social work teams of 7.5%, according to research by Community Care.
In October, the region’s 15 councils jointly launched a two-year campaign, called Children’s Social Work Matters, in a bid to recruit newly qualified social workers and raise standards for people already in the job. “We’re seeking to attract staff and give assurances to existing staff that we’re supporting them, too,” says Alison O’Sullivan (pictured), director for children and young people at Kirklees Council, who is leading the project.
“We have signed up to a pledge,” she adds. “If you work in any council in Yorkshire and the Humber, we will ensure you have manageable caseloads and more support.”
The campaign is part of a programme of collaboration, under which the councils work together to improve leadership skills, make better use of their agency staff and improve communication with local universities and colleges. O’Sullivan says: “We all contribute, for example by offering tutoring, and social workers have the opportunity to network and learn from each other.”
Children’s Social Work Matters also encourages employers to work together to tackle vacancy rates, rather than competing for staff. “In the past, there has been perhaps been a tendency, where staff were scarce, for authorities to compete for applicants. But we realised that competing wasn’t solving the problem and collaboration could make more of an impact,” says O’Sullivan.
The campaign’s website features children’s social work “champions” drawn from participating local authorities, who will deal with online questions about their role and what it takes to be a children’s social worker. It also contains video stories from staff and guides people on how and where they can train to be a social worker.
O’Sullivan says the champions will be encouraged to give a warts-and-all account of their daily working lives. “People will get a straightforward response,” she says. “Do you really get support? What’s your workload like? What are the emotional demands of the job? It’s important that the social workers speak from their direct experience; and it is difficult work.”
Judy Prosser, a social worker for Hull Council’s children and families disability team, is one of the 12 Children’s Social Work Matters champions. She became involved in the campaign because she was fed up with social work’s negative public image: “Often, if I say I’m a social worker, people look a bit aghast.”
Prosser says she’d like to get across to the public some of the positive aspects of her particular role. “In the disability team, we don’t work with people because we have to. Occasionally there is a child protection element, but most of our service users want our support. We get a lot of thank you cards.”
That’s not to say she would discourage anyone from going into child protection, which she has done in the past and found “very rewarding, because I got the best result I could for the children”. But, she says, she would warn people of the pros and cons: “I’d hate someone to go into it thinking it’s all lovely and nice.”
Prosser also hopes being a children’s social work champion will lift her own professional development. “It will help me look at my role and think, ‘what can I do better, what can I change?’ You’re always learning.”
The councils will gather data on how many people have expressed an interest in or been recruited to social work as a result of the campaign in due course. “We will want to see a difference in recruitment and retention rates in the region,” says O’Sullivan, adding: “We’re already getting feedback about the positive impact on morale.”
The Yorkshire and Humber pledge
● Greater leadership and less stress, including more manageable caseloads.
● Finding innovative ways to give social workers more time with children.
● Tailored induction process for newly qualified social workers.
● The chance to share knowledge across the region and access to a wider choice of training.
● Effective working partnerships and joined-up thinking with local and national NHS services, schools and police forces.
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