Recruitment and retention struggles are undermining attempts to give Suffolk social workers more manageable caseloads, the council’s cabinet has been told.
The council’s annual report on children’s social care says that the authority is struggling to find and keep experienced social workers on staff and this was hampering efforts to ease workloads as recommended by Ofsted recommended following its June 2013 inspection of services in Suffolk.
The report reveals that while caseloads and staff turnover has fallen slightly, there are 33 social workers with more than 25 cases including 14 who have more than 30 cases to manage.
It says recruitment challenges are the “key factor” preventing the council from reducing caseloads faster and that there are currently 27 social worker vacancies and 8 unfilled senior practitioner posts in children’s social care in Suffolk. These posts are being covered by 27 locum social workers.
“The recruitment and retention of suitably qualified and experienced social work staff continues to be the greatest challenge for specialist teams,” says the report.
It added that finding experienced social workers was especially challenging with less than 10% of the frontline social workers hired in the past year having “any appreciable previous experience”.
The report says the council has tried to address the problem by spending more money on making Suffolk’s employment offer more competitive with those of other East of England authorities.
“Improved renumeration is one factor that will contribute to this aim alongside the quality of professional supervision and support, opportunities for professional development and working with manageable caseloads,” says the report.
The council is also planning to launch a career progression pathway for social workers and aspiring managers in September.
Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for England at the British Association of Social Workers, told BBC Radio Suffolk that similar recruitment and caseload problems are commonplace in councils across the country.