The number of social work vacancies has risen sharply over the past year, after four years of being in decline.
Community Care’s annual investigation has revealed the number of social work posts vacant in September this year stood at almost 10% (9.5% in children’s services and 9.4% in adults services).
This is similar to rates seen in 2010 and represents a 6.5% average increase in vacant posts across the 131 councils that responded to the freedom of information request. Vacancy rates have previously been falling year on year since 2010.
New pressures on services including preparing for the Care Act and coping with the rise in Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) assessments may have accounted for the spike in adults’ services vacancies, but the parallel rise in children’s services has left directors baffled.
Dave Hill, workforce development chair for the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said the reverse in the vacancy rates’ downward trend in children’s services defied logic.
“Why it would have gone into reverse just this year is difficult to fathom.
“Moving in the wrong direction is a worrying trend. The ADCS will work carefully to try and understand what has caused the position to deteriorate rather than continue to improve,” he said.
Hill said the increase in vacancies in children’s teams would be hurting councils financially as expensive agency staff would have to be used to cover cases.
“Agency staff generally cost between 20 and 30% more than permanent staff so councils will have to find more money somewhere or they won’t be able to afford to fill all their vacancies.
“That will have a detrimental effect on services.”
Although an ageing workforce, in which older and more experienced staff are retiring and leaving a skills gap, could be a factor behind the rise, Hill said this alone did not explain the current situation given the numbers of social workers coming out of training.
“There are more social workers coming out of training. Many of these now have up to five years’ experience.”
In adults’ services, however, there are a combination of factors that may have led to the rise in vacancy rates according to Association of Directors of Adults’ Services (ADASS) president David Pearson.
“Authorities are looking at their overall structure in relation to the Care Act. This is leading to people holding vacancies while they establish what their permanent structure will be.”
“Some of the vacancies are actually more jobs being created that haven’t been filled yet,” said Pearson.