High percentage of social workers leaving the frontline, official data suggests

Experimental statistics from the Department for Education suggest a high percentage of social workers are leaving the frontline

Photo: JD Hancock/Flickr

Nearly two thirds of children’s social workers who left their council for a known location last year most likely quit frontline social work in England, government data has suggested.

The data analysis, published yesterday by the Department for Education (DfE), is the first attempt to analyse where social workers go when they leave local authority social work.

It showed that, of the 684 social workers who left a local authority between September 2013 and September 2014 to a known location, 64% left English social work. As a new data collection, the figures were presented as “experimental statistics”.

Social workers may have moved on to a non-social care role or out of employment, or taken a career break or any role outside England, the research stated.

They may also have passed away, changed their working pattern, or were categorised as ‘other’ by their local authority.

Two fifths of the 1,140 leavers analysed – from 37 local authorities who responded – had unknown destinations, which could mean the percentage who left social work is even higher.

Local authorities estimated a shortfall of over 4,500 social workers, needed to fill positions vacant at the end of September 2014. The figures showed 71% of the 4,430 agency social workers employed in local authorities were being used to cover these vacancies. The full-time equivalent social worker vacancy rate across England was 15%.

Children's workforce (1)

Nushra Mansuri, a professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, said the figures should raise concerns about attrition rates of social workers and called for the figures to be analysed robustly. “Of those people who left we should be asking questions, such as how long were they in practice?” she said.

Findings from the social work reform board, Mansuri explained, show how burnout rates are high meaning local authorities are losing newly qualified social workers very quickly.

Reacting to figures that show most social workers are leaving their local authority roles within 0-5 years, Mansuri said: “It’s bad on so many levels, it’s bad economically. The state puts money into training programmes, there’s an investment there, but this isn’t a good return on the investment.”

“I think it links with career structure and progression. There are lots of reasons why social work in local authorities is really quite fraught and frenetic, it’s no wonder people need to leave after those periods of time,” she added.

A DfE spokesperson said it was encouraging that “more high quality recruits than ever” are being attracted to social work, as part of the department’s long term plan to overhaul the social work profession.

Community Care is running a conference on protecting the frontline against burnout: creating cultures to promote resilience and wellbeing for social care and health professionals. It will be held on 10 March in Central London.

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8 Responses to High percentage of social workers leaving the frontline, official data suggests

  1. Ruth Cartwright March 2, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    This information means both experienced and newly qualified SWs should realise that they are in short supply and negotiate hard for decent terms and conditions. If employers were able to offer their SWs the support they need to do this most difficult of jobs, there would not be such high attrition rates. I fail to see why employers don’t give a as much attention to retaining their SWs as to recruiting them in the first place – it makes sense financially and (more importantly) in terms of the wellbeing of their workforce and ultimately to the benefit of service users.

  2. Andy Faulkner March 2, 2015 at 11:29 am #

    I am one of the leavers. I was so proud when I gained my first social work post after getting my Masters degree. I went to work for my local Metropolitan council and joined the ASYE with them. However, despite the ASYE recommendations and guidelines my case load spiralled within two months of taking on my first NQSW post. I couldn’t cope with coming in most mornings to find yet another family had been added to my case load due to the council’s lack of social workers. My direct manager was apologetic but told me there was nothing she could do as the assignments were coming in from upper management. I left in September last year; I want to get back into social work but I have had my confidence left in tatters by the councils heavy handed tactics of over burdening it’s Newly Qualifieds.

  3. Jim Greer March 2, 2015 at 11:53 am #

    Developing resilience needs to be a priority in social work education. However, no amount of resilience training will allow people to cope indefinitely with excessive caseloads. Rather than a mansion tax to pay for the NHS, Labour (and the conservatives) should be proposing a reform of council tax banding to raise money on high value properties to relieve the intolerable pressures on local Government finance.

  4. RC March 3, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    I qualified from my MA in social work this year and was so happy to gain my first post within childrens services. However, after 5 months I left my NQSW job due to the stress of managing an ever increasing caseload with minimal support. I realised it was too much when I was going to my car every lunchtime to cry, and having to pull myself back together and get on with it for the rest of the day, The experience has put me of statutory social work for life. Luckily, I have found a much more manageable and rewarding job but I know others have not been so lucky. The system is so backwards and high levels of staff turnover and sickness lead to increasing pressure on anyone who is left in a team, which eventually leads to more sickness and turnover!

  5. Ruth Cartwright March 3, 2015 at 4:43 pm #

    It is so sad to read of the experiences of Andy and RC as NQs. I’m glad RC found something else and I hope Andy is able to seek another job (maybe in the voluntary sector?) where he can put his hard-earned SW skills and knowledge to good use. Honestly these employers are so short sighted and its a real waste of people’s effort and energy to do this to them (not to speak of public and their own money spent on gaining their SW qualification in the first place). I’m sure the employers and managers concerned feel themselves to be under great pressure but destroying social workers’ lives is not the way to resolve it – they need to be passing the pressure up and speaking to their bosses about the need for more SWs.

  6. Fred March 4, 2015 at 8:24 am #

    The way the HCPC & in Scotland the SSSC carry on is another cause of social work retention problems.

    I know a number of social work managers who will now avoid any disciplinary action regards social workers because the public humiliation and aggressive deregistration stance of these bodies is seen as unfair, oppressive and disproportionate.

    Why do the governments not save a fortune and get rid of these terrible organisations?

  7. jim kenny March 4, 2015 at 11:03 am #

    ……and now with the Prime Minister comments about jail?????
    Honestly, you just can’t make this up.
    If he doesn’t retract the proposal of jailing social workers, expect vacancies to grow to at least 50%.
    The system has been decimated in the last five years. It needs a major rethink.
    What a complete and utter mess.

  8. Kim Melhuish March 4, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

    I work for a local authority that has a really robust ASYE Programme and I have been mentoring and assessing NQSWs for the past three years. I have been supporting social workers with adults, and in that time I only know of one person who withdrew from the Scheme due to her own health problems. All the others have gone on to complete the year successfully and take a qualification with Bournemouth University. It is not easily juggling work and study, but if you recruit high quality people and then support them well they can have a really good start through the ASYE programme and will be an asset to the employer.