‘We don’t like working for you’ – why social workers are quitting councils to become agency workers

Matt Bee says it is councils' failure to value their staff that is leading social workers like him to leave local authority practice

Photo: Burger/Phanie/Rex Shutterstock

By Matt Bee

Well this is embarrassing…It turns out the feature I was about to write, examining the deluge of social workers fleeing local authorities for the welcoming arms of recruitment agencies, has already been written. Social Work Outlaw beat me to it last June, right here in Community Care. It’s the writing equivalent of turning up to a cocktail party to find someone else wearing the same dress.

It’s a good feature by Social Work Outlaw as well. Heartfelt, frank, sincere. He or she asks why so many long-serving practitioners are deserting their employers, putting this down, at least in part, to the ‘shabby and abhorrent’ way employers treat them. I couldn’t agree more.

But I want to write this piece anyway because, you see, I am one of those practitioners. I’ve just left a local authority and hope to work for an agency. I concur completely with what Social Work Outlaw writes.

Desperate measures

What’s surprising is that local authorities themselves haven’t cottoned onto this yet. As they watch the workforce diminish, they’re scrabbling around for ever more desperate measures to win them back. The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham will offer you housing. Somerset will do the same. The Thurrock Gazette reported recently that its local children’s department is giving would-be social workers an open top bus tour in the hope it might convince them to sign on the dotted line.

That’s all very good and well but I don’t suppose many practitioners are throwing in the towel and causing these recruitment headaches in the first place because they haven’t been given a tour of the city recently.

Bullying, aggressive, neglectful

The reality is much simpler than that and, at the same time, much harder for local authorities to stomach. The fact is –  and brace yourselves if you work in HR at one of these venerable institutions – we don’t like working for you. Not even a little bit. You’ve become bullying, aggressive, neglectful, overbearing, pernickety, insensitive and overly sensitive as employers and, if we’re honest, we’d much rather leave you behind in our wake.

I realise at this point I can’t speak for all social workers. I can point you to a survey published last October which found that 6 in 10 social workers wouldn’t recommend their employer to a fellow practitioner. I can cite another survey, this time from 2009 and published in the Guardian, which found that although the vast majority of social workers were happy in their profession, over a third still planned to leave their employer within the forthcoming year.

That only demonstrates a general dissatisfaction with our workplaces, though, it doesn’t say what that dissatisfaction is about.

On the other hand, I have just spent five years working for a local authority, and worked for three others before that as well as for several agencies in between. So I can speak for myself here and maybe this will chime with your own experience, maybe not. In any event, I’ve no desire to work for a local authority again.

‘I didn’t feel valued’

And the reason is very simple. I didn’t feel valued.

At this point people usually start bringing money into it, but I was happy with my wage. No problems there. And even though there’s a big financial incentive to join an agency, this isn’t what pulled me across. The fact is I wasn’t pulled across at all. I was pushed.

My last employer and I had a very imbalanced working relationship. When it came to wielding control they held all the cards and behaved exactly like they knew it, drenching my workplace in rules, regulations, policies and procedures, and sharply questioning anyone who strayed from or dared query them. A practitioner’s own professional judgement was out; managerial directives in.

I know this is a trend seen throughout the profession – just read Social Work Outlaw’s account to see what I mean. But it felt like my employment contract was nothing more than a big stick with which to spur me on – my salary, holiday leave, sick pay, and pension were all in their hands. All I had was my notice, and they soon got that as well when their high-handed ways became too much to bear.

Escaping compliance and control

It bought me my freedom, a chance to escape that world of compliance and control. Signing with an agency will plunge me right back into it again, of course. But it’s different when you aren’t on the council’s own books. You feel more like an outsider, a spectator. When other team members wonder aloud why they work there and say they feel trapped, the truth is you don’t. You can always go elsewhere – thanks to the agency.

The mistake councils make is to think this is all about money. It’s not. It’s actually about control, and taking some of it back.

Matt Bee is a social worker based in the North East of England

, ,

More from Community Care

53 Responses to ‘We don’t like working for you’ – why social workers are quitting councils to become agency workers

  1. Michael August 17, 2015 at 10:32 am #

    Your penultimate paragraph totally undermines your point – as an agency worker you are much less protected than a full member of staff (particularly within a union) and are much more at the whims of your employer. And, as you briefly acknowledge, you will be hard pressed not to be working within a local authority, albeit with a get out clause and a large amount of money in your pocket should you not like it.

    I get the gist – you don’t like your previous employer – but joining an agency is a bit like refusing to vote in a general election; you won’t change anything, and you totally undermine the system for those who don’t follow your lead.

    • Jim Greer August 17, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

      There is an other alternative to agencies which is to set up your own social work practice. Many local authorities will be outsourcing social work assessments in the near future and there is an opportunity for people who want to set up their own ethical business with all the features such as good supervision which they would want from a social work employer. The idea is very unpopular in these pages but this article and the surveys cited in it suggest that many readers are very unhappy with local authorities as their employer. Time to seize the moment.

      • Alison August 18, 2015 at 1:53 am #

        I concur..

      • Pauline Felstead August 19, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

        I’m in

  2. Damien Swift August 17, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    I would have thought that an open-top bus tour of Thurrock would pretty much put the nail in the coffin of any attempt at recruitment…

    • Amy August 19, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

      I am pretty tempted to be honest

  3. Tom August 17, 2015 at 11:18 am #

    Many good points but for me and many other agency or independent social workers it is also about money. About being able to work half the week and still make the same salary for example.

    Though it is about so much more. Not having to sit through the punitive sessions that local authority SS departments call supervision. Being able to go to work, do the job and come away without the nonsensical responsibility that is foisted on the shoulders of the permanent staff. The sheer idiocy of the managerialism imposed from on high. The nasty back biting and rampant politics in the area offices (why do you people think I want to buy a copy of Socialist Worker just because I do a people job?).

    Agency work is not always wonderful. But for double or triple the money it is quite possible to tolerate a little more. The expectations are clearer. Here’s the contract so that is what I will supply. If you want to change the contract, no problem, but a renegotiation on cost will take place first. We owe each other nothing apart from me providing what you buy from me and you paying my invoice.

    And that all lets me focus on the people. The pressure is removed and I can spend time with people. I can be open with them about my role and about just what can or cannot be provided and how they can challenge the local authorities when they don’t do what they should. It is a privileged position but I have never been able to provide the people I have worked with a better service since I went indie.

  4. David Hignett August 17, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    Thank you, Matt – and I applaud your emphasis on it being fundamentally not about “money”! As an Agency Worker I have felt truly appreciated – as well as able to actually do my job – on one occasion and after a most brief contract I was presented with a most beautiful potted plant ……….. (I wonder how often this occurs with an employee?)

  5. Andrew August 17, 2015 at 11:30 am #

    Well Matt, sorry to say that your bleating is typically tiresome and yes, something that can be experienced across the profession. I have always had difficulty with the rhetoric of ‘not feeling valued’. What would ‘being valued’ actually look like? What have you done yourself to address the issue with your employer? Sad to say, you sound like one of the many practitioners who I have had the misfortune to meet or communicate with, who thinks that the world owes you a living, on your terms and without any regard to the bigger picture of organisational life. Good luck with agency work. By the way, what happens when that does not work out? I guess you could always re-train as a teacher.

    • Jane August 17, 2015 at 8:29 pm #

      Being valued is about being treated fairly and with respect. I have experienced the overbearing attitudes and bullying that goes on in Local Authorities; and even had to fight it whilst dealing with Cancer. I have now left social work, and not because of the clients; I expect a certain amount of difficulty there but I never expected what I experienced from my employers! Caring profession? When it comes to dealing with staff, don’t kid yourself!!

      • Tom August 18, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

        Jane I completely agree with you. I have worked for my local authority for 8 years. For 6 years I didn’t have one day off on sick leave and often struggled in with flu etc. Last year my antibodies decided they didn’t like my platelets and hence I was bleeding to death and was turning black in work. I spent 4 days on a drip in hospital and was informed I was lucky not to have had major stroke. As a consequence I also needed an op on my knee. This resulted in me having 15 and then 10 days off from work. On my return I had to have a meeting with HR when they informed me that my sickness level was high. Following this I had a formal letter telling me that whilst I was off on sick leave I was putting an extra burden on my colleagues. None of my work was touched while I was off. So much for staff care. I was an agency worker for a number of years and was treated much better in all the authorities I worked in and had a much better work / life balance. I felt mentally free to get on with my work. My only regret is that I was enticed into a permanent post which I still very much regret. I’m an advocate of agency work, not for the money but for the appreciation you receive. (I am in the process of planning my escape route back to agency work.)

      • john stephenson August 19, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

        The issue is that many L/A have become so Corporatised they do not value the professional values of social workers.
        Many L/A perceive Children’s and Adult Services as their biggest risk,both in attract adverse publicity and as over spending their budgets.As a result there has been a trend to micro manage social care ,by Corporate managers who have no ideas about the issues relating to social care.
        Their only concept of risk management is terms of risk to the L/A not users of the service.

    • YB August 19, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

      When it comes to thinking the world owes you a living, many of the permanent staff I have worked with could teach the agency workers a thing or two. If you are agency you are only as good as your last gig, no security of tenure is a wonderful motivator to make sure you are earning your money. It is sad that it has come to this, I would much rather a world where there was humane management but that is not where we are, so I shall be returning soon to the world of locum work where I can get the hell out if I come across some jobsworth manager..

    • Vicky August 19, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

      And you must be a manager lol
      What does being valued look like? Really?

    • Karen August 19, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

      I too left for feelings of not being valued. But this wasn’t always the case so what’s changed? 6 years of working for the LA. Initially I was listened too, my views and opinions were considered, and I was respected. Vice versa I too listened and considered managers views and opinions and respected and negotiated with them on an equal footing. What changed? Respected managers left and new managers came in and dictated what, where and how things will be done, which amounts to bullying. Long term sick increased to others leaving. Social Workers are trained to break down barriers enabling people to feel they can speak honestly and freely and feel respected and what they are saying is of value. Isn’t that why we’re in the profession to enable people to have a voice. If social workers haven’t got a voice how can they support vulnerable people to voice their opinions. Depressing!

  6. Miss Taylor August 17, 2015 at 11:47 am #

    What a breath of fresh air! Thank you for speaking out. I have experienced the same intimidating, micro management, emotional bullying and and public humiliation, it has damaged me for ever. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give my loyalty and commitment to a local authority again. They are rotten all the way to the top.
    As an agency worker I sit back and watch the the same behaviour over and over. It is awful to see good social workers (especially the newly qualified) being battered and broken by over zealous managers supported by HR who take great pleasure from enforcing policies, procedures and petty rules, often adding their own bits too.
    The workers are forced to swallow the Stalinist regime and are told the policies are there to protect them! It wouldn’t be so bad if the policies had equal clout for the worker but the moment a policy is tested a Witch Hunt begins and the worker often disapears never to be seen again.
    Oh! and then they threaten you with the HCPC too. Who once contacted will seek to quench their own thirst for social work blood.
    Social workers are highly trained professionals, often ignored, mistrusted, definitely under valued but most often more qualified and certainly more sensible that those who wield their policies as weapons.

  7. Asye August 17, 2015 at 11:56 am #

    Love the emphasis on it not being about money, really. ….

    • YB August 19, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

      Agency social work rates are about the same as a bottom grade IT support guy. If you think £29k is fab pay you are willing to stay on for your working life then good luck to you. Even then, once you take into account all the costs, especially pension, the rates are no better than permanent rates.

  8. sissy akimodo August 17, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

    I have worked for the same LA for 25 years and I am now looking to escape I love what I do but find the management style oppressive and feel that I am not allowed my own professional judgement. I could have left a long time ago but I believe that things will only change if we make a stand because its not just about me. I am hoping that things will change for the better which is probably naive but without hope what have we got?

  9. NQSW2013 August 17, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

    I must say, whilst I realise this is my first job in front line social work as a qualified social worker, I feel a lot safer and secure in my permanent position than the few agency workers that are also in our team.

    I acknowledge that it hasn’t been all plain sailing; we’ve had 3 managers since December. But we are so much more settled now, we work as a team and I feel valued. I’m in control of my case load, well supported and my opinions and judgements are listened to – ok so I don’t always get it right but I’m able to have discussions with management about WHY our opinions or interpretations differ.

    You couldn’t pay me to be an agency worker, I love my team 🙂

  10. Elizabeth August 17, 2015 at 1:13 pm #

    I have been with my LA for 20 years, for the most part my team are well regarded by senior officers. We have opportunities to try out different ways of working, everyone’s opinion is valid, we try out various models that management think are new/innovative ( just a rehash of what has gone before) Have had generally good supervisors, we are encouraged to take the lead on various initiatives i.e. safeguarding, telecare, end of life etc. Everyone who has worked in our team comment on t he friendliness and support etc.

  11. Shirack August 17, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

    Essential not to differentiate between integrity of both LA and Agency workers. Given that, you create a level playing field.
    AW gets more money, task diversity, more clout when it comes to bullying. (ie I’m off)
    In addition they bring fresh ideas and alleviate staleness within teams. They also have short term career goals, leading to increased client focused interventions. Yes continuity is compromised but if caseload allocation is properly considered this shouldn’t matter.
    This “up yours” culture also influences management style and should lead to greater respect for all.
    Not everyone will want to leave but those that do, can take satisfaction that they will have a positive influence on employers in the long run and, who knows, might want to return some day.

  12. Kim August 17, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

    What unions? Unions have been powerless since Thatcherism! The current situation is likely to remain this way until there is someone in power who actually respects social work as a profession. I have the sense that we are metaphorically held at gunpoint by Political figures that under value the work we do. I have given over 25 years of service and I always said that I couldn’t give up my work and would keep going till I drop. I was ever the optimist and stated that social work was my vocation. I have ten years of service left to complete now and I am wishing away single every year of it. I will continue to give my all in my role, I will continue to put work before anything else, I will continue to stay put as this offers a more consistent service; but when my earliest time to go is up, I’m out.

  13. James Barclay August 17, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

    Great article.

    Currently a final year SW student, and all classmates seem desperate to work for a Local Authority. The general feeling is that they won’t get the experience necessary to further their careers by working for the third sector. Given that most of us may not have the experience necessary to join an agency, LA’s may or may not be the best way to achieve this.

    However, I would not hesitate to work for an agency in the future, and feel that I would gain lots of experience, without being tied down in the one role. The variety is what attracts me, and I am worried that when I start work with an organisation, it won’t be long until I become consumed by the politics and bureaucracy often present in any office environment – with little, or no, means of escape.

    • Peter August 17, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

      I can think of nothing worse than a newly qualified worker being employed via an agency. Agency are employed to complete a task, at the price you pay, you expect them to be able to move forward at a good pace and manage the task at hand. You do not employ agency to give the opportunity for training and experience. Please get a full term contract and get all the training, shadowing and experience you can, build a portfolio and support your HCPC registration. Then when you have the skills and confidence you can justify the hourly rate and enjoy your independence to move into the areas you love.

      • CK August 18, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

        I can think of many things worse than NQSWs being employed via agencies. One of them is statements like this. How incredibly patronising. Many NQSWs are confident, highly competent practitioners with relevant pre-qualifying experience and a few years life experience under their belts to boot. My first qualified role was via agency, where I “completed the task”. From that I was recruited to my current, permanent, highly specialised role in the same LA, who clearly did view the process as an opportunity recruit suitable workers.

        On the hourly rate: Once you’ve paid your employers’ NI, the umbrella company’s margin and saved for planned and unplanend absences (nothing but SSP when you’re ill, I’m afraid, and your holiday pay is usually paid as part of your weekly/monthly pay) and paid into a pension (have a look at how they work for agency staff) that attractive hourly rate soon pales. I’m actually on more as perm staff that I was as agency, plus the benefits.

        Also, this current agency jamboree may not last. I expect there will be a stampede for LA roles then.

  14. David Mortimer August 17, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    Privatising who looks after children removes the safeguards which were put in place to protect them.

    There is no specific legislation or regulations which require local authorities to collect & hold information on child abuse perpetrators or for them to use that information to formulate evidence based child protection policies.

    Whom do local authorities protect children from?

    http://www.ukfamilylawreform.co.uk/whomdolocalauthoritiesprotectchildrenfrom28thdecember2013.htm

  15. Chris Goodhead August 17, 2015 at 5:17 pm #

    Local Authority work doesn’t have to involve oppressive management and feelings of inadequacy. I qualified last year and the LA team I work within is supportive, supervision is actively helpful, team work is positively encouraged and managerialism seems to be quashed with an emphasis instead on preventative work and positive, active relationships with the most vulnerable members of society. Proper social work, I think.

    I think my point is that not all Local Authorities are the same.

  16. Andy August 17, 2015 at 5:23 pm #

    I agree that there is little respect for professional judgement. It’s all about timescales and meeting targets. There are some LAs who want practitioners to work a certain way within one model which limits the skills you can use. One LA I worked in recently even wanted to direct the language I used in documents. There is no room for indvidualisation. The profession has become a policing role rather than the caring profession it once was.

  17. Chloe August 17, 2015 at 5:31 pm #

    I think some Local Authority’s have cottoned on, like the one I work for. If I leave them I cannot work for them or 13 other local authorities in the South East as an agency worker for 1 year…

    • Rachel Schraer August 18, 2015 at 11:50 am #

      Would be interested to hear more about that if you’re able to get in touch- rachel.schraer@rbi.co.uk

      Rachel
      Workforce journalist- Community Care

    • YB August 19, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

      That is restraint of trade and will never be upheld in court.

  18. Sean Ferrer August 17, 2015 at 6:29 pm #

    As an adult care leaver, once firmly of the view that the only place for children’s services was in state hands, my experience in recent years has turned that presumption on its’ head. Cuts in Government funding to local authorities as they undergo conversion from providers to commissioners of public services have created plummeting morale, desperation, panic and in some, wearied resignation to what feels like a fate inevitable.

    As I left the employ of one London local authority, their chief executive had announced a further requirement to save £70 million up to 2018. I am a recruiter of foster carers and adopters. I witnessed first had the devastating impact of these cuts inside local authorities. Social work colleagues working longer and longer hours to cover the caseloads left behind by those that had already given up and gone locum. Nervous breakdowns. I exaggerate not.

    However—it is worth sharing that local authorities, in a radical attempt to provide statutory services themselves, without interruption, offered children’s services staff, including of course social workers, the opportunity to set up staff-led mutuals, protected from market competition for their first 5 years of trading.

    This represented an entrepreneurial opportunity for practitioners to build better services, free of local government control, and really do what they had studied so long and hard to do—social work! However, take up has been practically non existent, and indeed, I was personally lambasted by middle management for seeking information in order to do exactly this.

    Some aspects of children’s services should never come near a profit-seeking motive—ever. But for the rest, I have seen astonishingly exemplary practice and support offered to carers and looked after children alike within the independent sector, and I must give due credit for this. Tribalism gets us nowhere, so I say make the choice between placard-waving victimhood, or grasp the mettle and the opportunity to make a success of children’s services reform within our generation.

    I’ve made my choice. What’s yours?

  19. Lynn August 17, 2015 at 8:04 pm #

    How very right you are. I sadly made the decision to walk away from social work altogether due to exactly the reasons you have stated. I can’t believe the relief of not having to go into work and face all that ‘stuff’ that stops you doing the job that you really believe in, worrying every day when you are going to be next in the firing line from bosses. I do miss the job and the people I worked with but I don’t for one second miss that awful churing feeling every morning which I got on my way to work each day.

  20. Debbie August 17, 2015 at 8:35 pm #

    Thank you for confirming the obvious really, agency social workers are transient they struggle with issues of commitment and as you note prefer less rules, don’t appreciate supervision, struggle to work within policies, procedures and regulations and are not team players they are frankly only interested in social work for the money

    • Annie August 19, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

      Well Debbie, a manager in the LA are you?? I would like to say that I have never heard such judgmental, patronising and narcissistic language, sadly though I have, many many times in various LA’s. What many LA social workers are is hypocritical, they talk about putting children first and their own children have to come the very last, they talk about protecting children and then talk about their drinking antics at the bbq at weekends whilst their children are present, they act ridiculous in the office and use language and behavior towards parents and children that shouldn’t be used in a prison. I am an agency worker and have worked for the LA and other Safeguarding services for over 30 years, I get paid to do a job and I do it well, I embrace supervision and when at work I bloody well work, I have at least 10 more cases than permanent workers in the LA and they are much more complex cases. I am not transient, I am flexible, the money paid is balanced out with the lack of security, sick pay, holiday pay and pension. Now tell me about you!!!!

  21. Charlie August 17, 2015 at 8:53 pm #

    I worked for my local authority for 20 years. 18 years of never triggering the sickness policy, 2 years of ill health, including balance disorder, shingles and pleurisy, and I was dismissed. My attendance at work of my 19th year, 94%. Had shingles which Prevented me working with children and pregnant women, which was my case load. I was devastated. The manager who was advocating my dismissal wanted it put on public record that this had nothing to do with my practice, which he described as excellent. 12 years as an excellent child protection social worker, dismissed like it meant nothing.There is no loyalty in some authority’s who treat their practitioners as zoo animals to ensure that the stats look good. It’s a said demise for the profession. Families, looked after children, children subject to cp plans sometimes having several social workers due to the high turnover of agency staff.
    I didn’t last long as agency, my first assignment offered me a permenment post. It seems a fantastic authority and I finally feel appreciated

  22. Kate August 17, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

    I think Mary’s experience is one shared by many in agency work and I understand the views on both sides shared here. Another perspective – I hate being an agency worker! That’s right, I want to go back to the badly valued, overworked difficult life of a permanent worker but I can’t…yet… What Matt didn’t say is the strength and camaraderie of those ‘trapped’ in a team brings a sense of belonging and achievement, even if you have just achieved getting through the day. Sadly due to a very difficult personal situation I had to leave a job I loved to begin the locum voyage and I have worked with amazing people along the way. But I keep having to leave because I’m an agency worker. I am steadily working my way to a time where I can return to a pesky LA where everything is tough, the money is less but at least I will have a modicum of control again. I know you can walk away when it’s tough, but some of us don’t want to.

  23. Sandy Beach August 17, 2015 at 10:59 pm #

    Interesting article, I have ten years child protection experience and am agency, why?
    Because I accept that I might have to come in early or go home late, and might have to write an odd report at home or in the evening. I don’t accept that this is my working life every day, until I retire in 30-40 years. It’s not sustainable, and is ridiculous, what I don’t understand is why everyone else puts up with it and thinks they have to do this, then when they make a genuine error or mistake due to tiredness, have no support from management and senior staff and are ostracised, the. Might have a complaint made about them to the HCPC, who don’t seem to have a clear remit of exactly what they should be investigating, and when something is an internal matter.
    What an agency position gives me over a full time role above the money is time, time that can’t be bought back with friends, family, children who are growing whilst we have our backs turned. Time can’t be bought, and the work life balance of SW in child protection work is a disaster, leading many into a sedentary killer lifestyle that leaves people exhausted at the end of the week, with no place or energy to do anything.
    Being agency gives me this in the breaks between contracts and in being able to choose holidays and odd days of with more control, l try to look at what everyone else is doing and not purposefully leave the tam stuck, but it’s still that I have more choice.

    What would make me take a full time job?
    If I could go home at 5pm 3-4 days out of five, not have to come in early every day and didn’t have a work culture where lunch is encouraged to be non existent by subtle cues.
    If I had maybe another weeks holiday.
    Possibly not being treated as incompetent and lazy because I can’t manage a serious caseload and do it in 37 hours a week.
    Not being expected to work more than a few hours overtime without pay- which from an organisational point masks the issue of the work is not accounted for.
    Not being managed by people who have either given up, only have a bullying strategy, as they are probably being bullied from management themselves and struggling to manage.
    Not being given stupid answers that are nonsensical by managers.
    Not having to look at others just qualified who have had enough after two years or haven’t even lasted the ASYE.
    Supervision being useful, regular, accountable and different to what it is now.
    having driving discounted from your workload, when the distances are considerable?
    Anyway that’s just without thinking about it.

  24. Kate Wells August 17, 2015 at 11:49 pm #

    I spent 25 years working as a social worker and team manager for the same LA (a shire county) and retired in 2004. For the following 3 years I worked for an “Independent Social Work Agency” (not the sort of Agency that recruits social workers for LAs) but one started by 2 Guardians, who began working independently. They became very successful and began to recruit experienced social workers (at least 10 years PQ experience) to work for them – but on a self employed basis. More and more social workers were recruited and the 2 ex Guardians became Directors of the company. They won contracts with LAs to carry out specific pieces of work e.g. Fostering assessments, kinship fostering and SGOs. Most of the work though was the provision of social workers to act as independent sws in care proceedings and commissioned by the courts.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my career with the LA though of course there were frustrations along the way, but the quality of social work was in general very good and caseloads were manageable. However during my last 5 years (or so) with the LA the “business” model came into being, and as a manager I sat through more boring meetings than I care to remember, where we could have been a company canning baked beans rather than talking about children’s services! Management information was the order of the day and everything had to be counted and performance indicators and other management speak became the norm. I retired at aged 60.

    For the following 5 years I worked on a self employed basis for the Independent Social Work Agency I outlined above. I was paid well (an hourly rate for professional time, 40p per mile travel, and half the professional fee for travelling time) but the directors also got paid VERY well and charged us out at double the amount they paid us! OK it was a business and businesses are out to make profit, and they quality assured our work and provided good supervision. We were responsible for producing our own reports but there were admin workers at the agency, obviously to take referrals from LAs and ensure that reports and attachments etc reached their destination by the date required, so of course like any business there were overheads that had to be taken into account. I enjoyed the work, no more boring meetings, and I was back at the “coal face” which suited me far better than management.

    One of my friends who was an associate and did mainly parenting assessments commissioned by the courts as she had previously managed a Child Protection Team for the LA where we both worked, (that was the term used before safeguarding). Courts began to ask the Agency for her specifically and before long she began to see that she would be much better off working independently of the agency and for some years she did just that, and became very well known on the court circuit and had more work than she needed, often having to turn work down. Then of course the cuts in legal aid came and that was the death knell for independent social workers in care proceedings.

    I totally agree with Jim Greer about breaking free from the LA and the Agencies that recruit social workers. Why not work for yourself – LAs are as you all know desperately short of experienced social workers in Children’s Services and will have to “buy in” independent workers. OK so you become self employed, and when costing out your services you need to factor in no superannuation contribution, sick pay, holiday pay etc., but with some input from business experts, you could probably be earning as much doing a couple of cases per month as slogging away for 37 (or more likely 50 hours per week) I don’t agree with privatisation BUT this is what this govt is intent on doing, privatising all public services, so be one step ahead………local colleges run courses on setting up your own business and if there are a few of you, why not form a collective and maybe someone in the group will have business skills, or know someone who could help. The bank could give you a “start-up” loan – why work for Agencies who are probably charging LAs double what they are paying the social workers, even though they will pay above LA rates. If I was not happily retired I would most certainly take this option.

  25. Andrew August 17, 2015 at 11:51 pm #

    It is interesting that through this entire thread there has been absolutely no reference made to the clients with whom we work. Astonishing! It seems to be all about me,me,me and me again! Let’s just get on with the work that we signed up to do. Our profession is cursed by the blah, blah, blah of practitioners and managers and beyond who leak
    a contemptful arrogance that seeks to undermine the good work that most of the profession engages in each and every day. The agency workers will fill their boots with cash and whinge ad infinitum. It is all actually rather mercenary. Strong words, harsh truths.

    • Shirack August 18, 2015 at 2:48 pm #

      “leading to increased client focused interventions. Yes continuity is compromised but if caseload allocation is properly considered this shouldn’t matter.”

    • Annie August 19, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

      Well Andrew, you might be a god or something with the resilience of a bull but most of us are mere humans and to do such a fearful job we need people behind us not tripping us up round every corner.

  26. Kate Wells August 18, 2015 at 12:05 am #

    Me again! PS – I think that the change in LA social work has come about largely as a result of this government’s demands for massive savings, and at the same time expecting improved service delivery! There were in my experience (from the time I started social work in the late 1970s) budget constraints, but we were able to work within those constraints. Now that LAs are in a position where they have insufficient funding to carry out their statutory responsibilities in many cases, the pressure is on – senior managers put pressure on middle managers to save money and the pressure gets passed down the line, to the social workers on the frontline. This I believe creates the bullying culture that is now prevalent in so many LAs and why managers are not able to value the people they manage. Everyone is overwhelmed with work and have no time or emotional energy for empathy. This is now the case in the LA where I worked for so many years, and it saddens me. Most LAs have had to sell off buildings and so social workers are crammed into already overcrowded offices, and I’m told that many social workers are sitting in car parks using their laptops!

    I’d better stop or I will go on a long political rant…………

  27. Carmel August 18, 2015 at 9:02 am #

    Now change that from social worker to foster carer and that is exactly how many foster carers are treated who work for the local authority. Twenty years working for them when we changed to a charity agency and our lives have been transformed for the better. But we still see that behaviour only now we are supported by our private agency who take on the bullies for us. A whole system attitude change needs to occur.

  28. Catherine Adams August 19, 2015 at 7:40 am #

    A lot of it is about money – social workers leave and then come back and work through an agency as they get masses more money draining an already struggling system, but who can blame them, would you work next to a colleague knowing they earn loads more doing the same job.

    You need good Managers and Good Senior Practioners to support and train often overwhelmed and inexperienced staff… Then maybe the authorities stand a chance of keeping them.

  29. maria August 19, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

    someone should also write an article about the bullying/aggressive/neglectful behaviour towards pregnant social work staff by managers in local authority’s – placing them in high risk/vulnerable situations re home visits, travelling around the country etc, i have witnessed it numerous times & also been directly on the receiving end, its disgusting!

  30. Alfred T Mahan August 19, 2015 at 4:48 pm #

    If you think local authorities are ” bullying, aggressive, neglectful, overbearing, pernickety, insensitive and overly sensitive” to staff, you should try being a small care provider! Every one of those adjectives applies in spades to how L.A.s treat us – with the added disadvantage that we don’t have employment rights to protect us. At the whim of a disgruntled care manager I could lose my business, and with it my livelihood and pension. I would have no right of redress if treated unfairly, and, believe me, care managers, even senior ones – especially senior ones – are quite capable of acting on a personal dislike in a way that wouldn’t last five minutes in the private sector.

    All power corrupts, etc., and care managers have close to unfettered and absolute power over small providers.

  31. Rose Berry August 19, 2015 at 7:57 pm #

    Sorry to say Matt but I think that you are confusing the Local Authority with the NHS that funded your previous post, your experiences were not shared by other members of the Service that were not part of the integrated team and hence not controlled by the NHS, who in my opinion did not value the Social Workers within the service and sought to constantly undermine the Social Care agenda.
    I have always felt valued by the Local Authority that employs me and I respect their policies and procedures and have therefore never been in a position were I felt “pushed” to leave and go to work for an agency where I am unable to access statutory training, career development, pension contributions holiday and sick pay. whilst it may be the case in the South East that local authority employees have left to work for agencies it is not something that I have witnessed locally.
    Yes there is currently a huge shortage of qualified Social Workers within our LA but this has been mainly due to the massive cuts imposed by central government on the LA.

    • Martin Road August 20, 2015 at 2:46 pm #

      I would agree with Rose Berry , the past few years have been difficult for your former Local Authority employer due to swinging government cuts , I can understand your frustrations Matt but social work is not valued by the NHS trust you were intergrated into & never has been. Yes there are policies , procedures , regulations , in the main prescribed by statutory legislation , as an agency worker that will still apply where ever you work . Staffing & recruitment are an issue nationwide , your previous employer has taken steps to remedy both retention & recruitment . Best wishes for the future Matt.

  32. Georgia August 20, 2015 at 1:25 am #

    Having completed 25 years with the same team for the same L.A. i was told my job no longer existed , i would have happily stayed till retirement i loved my job, i was seconded into a private company which was simply brilliant, i was GUTTED !! didn’t want to go, my options were to accept a job in another team in an area i didn’t know, or accept redundancy, however i accepted the challenge,,,,,OMG what a mistake, i was bullied, harassed, insulted, the reasons being, evidently i had taken a job that a social work student was earmarked for, she had previously worked for the team for over ten years, and had just finished her final year awaiting her results, i felt so guilty,,,,,, the team was so angry,,,they obviously wanted their long term friend and colleague back,,,,and here was i ,,,,had jumped straight into her,,,expected job,,the eventual outcome was i was made an outcast, eventually pressured into leaving !!
    I have now set up my own Social Work Business, and its the best move i have ever made, i have a considerable amount of work coming in, and have employed others to assist me out payed on, assessment basis. So go for it if your thinking about it, you cannot buy your mental health back, and their horrid redundancy did me a HUGE favour,,thanking them 🙂

  33. Maria August 20, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

    I work for’ a (shire) LA and the bullying/micro managing is another added pressure to deal with. I have 6 years post qualifying experience and looking to leave LA work to join an agency. More work/life balance and no more being ‘picked on’ by what one can only describe as a manager likened to an inconsistent parent.

    Sadly none of my current team feel ‘valued’ listened to, just shut down!

  34. Jay Linnet September 2, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    I agree with Rose Berry and Martin Road. The Council are struggling themselves to get some power back from the nhs and stop being hit with a big stick. We social workers just get the brunt of it when you are stuck in an integrated team where you are not valued and treat like second class citizens even though it is our statutory duties that bring most of the buisness to the NHS.