Social worker numbers will be boosted by more than 6% under plans drawn up by councils to cope with changes coming into force under the Care Act today.
Local authorities are preparing to carry out thousands of extra assessments and reviews over the next 12 months under the Act’s reforms. Key changes include a new assessment and care planning framework for service users – underpinned by a national eligibility criteria, a lower threshold for carers’ assessments and a duty to provide preventive care.
Data gathered from 125 local authorities in England under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that 90 councils had drawn up workforce plans for the number of extra staff required to meet the new Care Act duties. Between them the 90 councils expect to create an extra 1,336 adult social care posts, of which at least 550 (41%) will be social work roles.
The extra recruits will increase the councils’ social work posts from 8,633 to 9,183, a rise of 6.4%. The total adult social care roles at the authorities will increase from 55,097 to 56,433, a jump of 2.4%. All figures are in full-time equivalent posts.
The figures suggest that the Care Act will see social work posts increase as a proportion of the council-employed social care workforce. Official figures show that last year social workers represented 12 per cent of all local authority-employed adult social care jobs.
Social care leaders said the increase in social work posts was welcome but had to be backed up by investment in good management support and professional development if the Care Act’s aspirations are to be realised in practice.
The Care Act duties introduced today will see local authorities facing an average of 2,195 additional assessments and reviews of carers this year, according to the Local Government Association’s latest Care Act stocktake. From October, each council will also be expected to carry out an average of 1,856 early assessments of self-funders ahead of the introduction of a cap on care costs being introduced in April 2016.
The Act allows councils to boost assessor capacity through several routes. Options include expanding in-house social care and social work teams, offering self assessments where appropriate, and use of third-party assessors from voluntary sector or other providers. The LGA stock-take found that 93% of councils planned to use in-house staff to undertake early assessments, 55% planned to offer self-assessments and 29% planned to use third-party organisations.
Our research found that the scope and scale of councils’ plans for additional social work support varied. Most councils (60%) plan some increase in social worker posts, with more than a quarter (27%) expecting to increase social work capacity by more than 10%. But 30% of local authorities planned no increase in social worker numbers. A further 10% of councils had identified a need for an additional 181 posts between them but had yet to decide how many of these jobs would be social work roles and how many would be for non-professionally qualified staff.
Different local approaches
Essex county council is planning to employ an extra 100 social workers to meet its Care Act duties, a move that will increase the local authority’s social work numbers by 22%. The new posts are part of a redesign of adult social work provision which will eventually see the vast majority of assessment and care planning posts held by professionally-qualified staff based in smaller locality-based teams integrated in GP surgeries. This council-employed workforce will be supported by voluntary sector agencies offering lower-level support.
James Bullion, Essex’s director of adult operations, said that the authority believes investing in its professional workforce will reap benefits in the long-term by offering more intensive early support.
“We’re expanding the number of team managers and senior social workers and we’re reducing the size of our social work teams by half. We want to give social workers lower levels of casework to deal with as we see that as integral to them having time to do preventive work,” he said.
“In our children’s social work service we’ve been pursuing a relationship-based social work strategy for a number of years. That has reduced the number of child protection plans and it has also reduced our spend. We believe a similar approach can work in adult settings, especially now that our GPs are identifying the 5% of older people who are most at risk. We know that those people will become our customers in a year’s time if we don’t intervene early and give them a proportionate service now.”
Newcastle city council anticipates that it can deliver its Care Act duties without additional staff by reviewing its current services.
The council is moving social workers from its long-term care teams into its ‘social care direct’ first point-of-contact service and trialing the numbers of staff needed at each tier of social care provision.
“We anticipate that social care direct will provide information and advice, support people to access preventative or low level services and undertake assessments and support plans for those requiring social care. This will therefore minimise the number of people who need a longer term intervention creating capacity in the longer term teams to accommodate this reduction in staff numbers in those teams,” a council spokesman said.
Derby City Council’s response indicated that it was contracting a local carers association to carry out additional carers assessments under the Act. The contract meant that the local authority did not anticipate hiring any additional social care staff.
Annie Hudson, chief executive of The College of Social Work, said that social work had a clear “professional leadership” role to play in delivering the Care Act and it was an encouraging sign that most local authorities are looking to take on more social workers. However, Hudson added that there are concerns among practitioners over whether the Act will be sufficiently resourced to ensure its aspirations can be fully delivered on the front line.
“For social work, the Act is both a challenge and opportunity. The creation of more jobs in some places is a good start but we know that to make sure that we’ve got resilient and effective practitioners, there must be good investment in the profession,” she said.
“That’s not just about new posts, it’s about CPD and investing in work to strengthen communities because all of that will lead to better outcomes. There are number of the pieces of the jigsaw that need to be in place.”
David Pearson, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said local arrangements will vary but the Care Act’s focus on prevention, and the wider drive towards integrated working, meant many areas would be looking to boost social work numbers.
“There are a number of ways in which social workers in particular, are seen as important to implementation of the Care Act and the wider challenge of working with the NHS to help more people get care at the right time and at home as much as possible. It needs a holistic approach and social work is central to that approach of managing risk in a way that helps keep people safe but doesn’t make them miserable,” he said.