Adult social worker vacancies are rising, with councils increasingly concerned by a shortage of best interests assessors and approved mental health professionals.
Some 10.5% of social worker posts were unfilled in October 2015, according to figures returned to Skills for Care’s national dataset. The previous year’s figure was 7.4%. Comparisons between figures for November and December reveal a similar rise.
Local authorities submit their vacancy rates between September and October each year, giving a ‘snapshot’ of recruitment in the sector. The dataset, described as ‘the leading source of workforce intelligence’ for adult social care, is managed by Skills for Care on behalf of the government. The vast majority of social worker posts covered are in adult services.
The rise in vacancies could reflect councils needing to recruit more social workers in order to implement the Care Act. Local authorities have previously indicated they hoped to increase social work posts by 6% under the reforms, which came into force last April.
However, an update on Care Act implementation issued last month by Lyn Romeo, the chief social worker for adults, warned councils were increasingly concerned by a shortage of social workers to fill certain key roles.
Community Care understands the most pressing recruitment challenges identified concerned a lack of experienced social workers to take on best interests assessor (BIAs) or approved mental health professional (AMHP) roles.
Demand for both groups has surged in recent years. Use of the Mental Health Act, in which AMHPs play a key role in assessments, hit a record high last year. Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (Dols) cases, which are coordinated by BIAs, increased tenfold following the Supreme Court’s ‘Cheshire West’ ruling in March 2014.
In a bid to clear backlogs of Dols cases, many councils pulled experienced BIA-trained social workers into dedicated Dols teams. This left the need to backfill posts in their previous teams, often safeguarding services. The demand for BIAs has also led to some social workers leaving local authorities to work full-time as independent BIAs.
Maris Stratulis, England manager for the British Association of Social Workers, said higher vacancy rates were also likely to reflect growing pressures on teams.
She said: “Our members are highlighting high volumes of referral rates, challenges relating to work/life balance and the age profile of staff. In some services, older and more experienced staff are leaving and taking early retirement. It results in vacancies and a reliance on agency staff to fill the void.”
Graham Woodham, Skills for Care’s programme head for regulation of professional workforce, said: “New yearly figures will be published next month, but there will always be a number of variables that can influence that figure. These variables might include authorities who are looking to fill new vacancies as social workers move on or may be recruiting to implement the Care Act.”
About the research
The figures quoted above come from the National Minimum Dataset for Social Care (NMD-SC) monthly reports. Councils submit vacancy rates between September and October each year.