Council replaces children’s social workers with support staff

Peterborough City Council says move will focus social work on complex cases but union claims some professionals feel ‘undermined’

Social workers in an office
Photo: Image Source/Rex (posed by models)

by Julie Griffiths

Support workers have replaced social workers on some cases in children’s services at Peterborough City Council.

A pilot scheme has seen 20 specialist support workers recruited, all of whom have caseloads of 15-20 under the supervision of qualified social workers.

A report submitted to the council’s cabinet earlier this month said two social worker posts could be cut for every three support workers appointed, with posts filled by agency staff first to go.

The plan was to reduce social worker posts from 83 to 70 but the council told Community Care this may change depending on the pilot results.

Wendi Ogle-Welbourn, Peterborough’s corporate director for people and communities, said: “Obviously we can’t give unqualified workers the more complex work. They do some of the less complicated cases.

“All assessments of families will be done by qualified social workers, but support workers can then take on some of the direct work with families and that will free up social workers’ time.”

Package of changes

The scheme is part of a number of changes to improve children services following an Ofsted Inspection of Children’s Social Care, which gave the department a rating of ‘need to improve’ last year.

The council has also implemented a bonus recruitment and retention scheme for new social workers to the service.

The package of reforms is expected to save £400,000 next year. It is designed to address recruitment and retention problems that saw the council spend £1.8m on agency social workers in the year up to September 2015.

The support workers are paid around £26,000-a-year. Peterborough’s social workers cost the council an average of £41,250-a-year in salary and employment benefits, such as pension contributions. The average cost of an agency social worker is £71,000-a-year, the cabinet report said.

Support worker training

Ogle-Welbourn said the support workers had previous experience or qualifications in child-related areas, such as teaching assistants, youth workers and childcare.

She added that they had been given four weeks of intensive training by the council before they began work.

“It was a very comprehensive induction programme that covered things like working with challenging families, mental health and substance misuse, and neglect,” said Ogle-Welbourn.

She added that, four months into the pilot, the new system had reduced social worker caseloads from 25 to 19.

But Rona Hendry, Unison branch secretary for Peterborough City Council, said that some social workers were unhappy about the new arrangement.

“They feel undermined. They’ve said how can it be right to have unqualified people doing our jobs?” she said.

Social work bonus package

To address the shortage of permanent social workers, the council is offering new starters a 20% bonus of their starting salary, spread over three years.

New social workers receive a bonus of 2.5% of their starting salary after the first year and 7.5% after year two.  After the third year of service, a 10% bonus will be paid.

According to recruiters Reed, the average salary for a social worker is £41,939 but this figure is likely to include manager salaries. Official statistics on social worker pay are available for adult services. The figures, published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, found the average social worker salary was £32,100 in 2015.

But social workers already in post will not qualify for the Peterborough bonus scheme. They are part of an existing retention bonus scheme to which new recruits would move after their first three years.

The retention scheme offers an annual bonus, ranging from £500 for grade nine to £3,000 for grade 12.

*This article was amended on 26 February to reflect the fact that £41,250-a-year was the cost of social workers to the council, including employment benefits, rather than the salary alone. The Health and Social Care Information Centre salary estimate was also added.

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29 Responses to Council replaces children’s social workers with support staff

  1. Graham February 25, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

    £41,250 a year? I am moving to Peterborough!

    • David February 26, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

      I think £41k per year is the total cost to the LA – the actual wage would be less. Looking at adverts for Peterborough, the range is £29k-£32k for a family support SW, IRO £36k-£40k

  2. linda February 25, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

    Money money money money.
    Risk risk risk risk risk risk

  3. linda February 25, 2016 at 8:58 pm #

    Reed. The average salary for an agency social worker you mean

  4. C February 25, 2016 at 9:13 pm #

    Wow! I need to go and work for Peterborough. I am 7 years in and there is no way in LA would I be earning over £40k. Most senior social workers are on £32k – £35k in Southern counties….most are on £30k. These averages must include management and Commissioners. Regardless of this…how utterly depressing that direct work with families by social workers is seen as less than? How far removed will social work become from actively helping families to writing court reports about people they barely know? The very basis of social work is human interaction and communication yet it is viewed with such little importance. No amount money would encourage me to see people less than I already do. And seriously.. teaching assistants with an extra 4 weeks training? So they don’t have the qualifications to teach children but they do have the qualifications to protect them? They do a valued job, within a school environment, but how much will be missed because they just don’t have the knowledge, insight or experience they require. Baffled.

    • Beth February 29, 2016 at 7:03 am #

      Totally agree. Frightening. When are people going to wake up to the reality!

  5. Andrea Wilson February 26, 2016 at 10:46 am #

    The local authority in London that I previously worked for, has been using family support worker ( re named “Child in need workers) for several years . These workers have very little training and carry out initial and Core assessments. Why bother with a qualified Social Worker !!!

  6. Andrea February 26, 2016 at 10:51 am #

    Agree with C, – avoiding the issue and fiddling while Rome burns!

  7. LongtimeSW February 26, 2016 at 10:54 am #

    ‘Jump’ said Cameron & Osbourne

    ‘How High’, said The Local Authority, ‘and when we land shall we squash those pesky social workers who think that value is something to do with humans and not our mates the shareholders in private companies who know the price of everything and the value of nothing’

    . . . . . only asking

  8. Lorraine February 26, 2016 at 11:25 am #

    That’s a great move for Peterborough to recognise Support worker’s input in the lives of vulnerable people. I was a keyworker, then senior keyworker and home manager working with children and young people for over 9 years. We worked closely with Social workers as we had direct contact with the clients on a regular basis, we provide a lot of support to Social workers to the extent that we completed pathway plans and needs assessment documents. Our LAC consultation documents, weekly and monthly reports were very detailed and informative. Clients had a very good rapport with us which made it easier to collect as much useful information as possible to provide the necessary support. I wish other Boroughs like Croydon Council can do the same and avoid paying lots of money to providers out there.

    • Tracey March 3, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

      Unfortunately the support workers have little training or support and are instructed to close cases within 4 weeks despite them or other professionals having concerns about families! It’s used to reduce case loads to look good and ensure management decisions are carried out – a more confident and experienced social worker might (should) be able to argue against such decisions where children are at risk.

  9. Chris February 26, 2016 at 12:11 pm #

    This is already happening (and has been for a while) in my LA. We have “child support officers” who have no formal social work qualifications.

  10. Stuart February 26, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    When I was first employed as a social worker (in 1979) each team of 6 or 7 workers included one manager, 5 qualified social workers and 1, sometimes 2 (‘unqualified’) ‘Social Work Assistants’.
    Social Work Assistant posts were gradually replaced by qualified SW posts because it was found that every case was complex so every case needed a qualified worker.
    What goes around comes around – you just have to stay alive long enough……

  11. Andrew February 26, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    I was more interested in the “Obviously we can’t give unqualified workers the more complex work.” quote.

    Seems to me it has been a very long time since any child care case was not complex.

    The idea that some social workers are dealing with simple situations is insulting.

    So some children lose out on the chance to have the highest quality support form trained, qualified and regulated social workers.

    Good old Caring Cameron’s cuts strike again.

  12. Joanne February 26, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

    I’m uneasy about this article. I’m qualified in social work and I have ten years experience in social care. However, due to not entering statutory social work as a social worker immediately following graduation from my MA. I have been turned down for social work posts because I haven’t got “two years post qualifying experience” nor completed my ayse, not had the opportunity to complete statutory placements(I did placements in private and charity). So, for me, being able to apply for one of the social work assistant/social care officer/social work support roles is a great chance for me to enter the profession. So, don’t assume these “support workers” are unqualified or inexperienced. I imagine I’m not the only qualified social work graduate applying for these roles, so they’ll be getting good value for money. And they are not merely replacing social workers, it’s to split the workload and help social workers to get more of the higher level stuff done, and what’s more, it might also result in more direct work being carried out with the service users.

  13. Joanne February 26, 2016 at 2:29 pm #

    I’m uneasy about this article. I’m qualified in social work and I have ten years experience in social care. However, due to not entering statutory social work as a social worker immediately following graduation from my MA. I have been turned down for social work posts because I haven’t got “two years post qualifying experience” nor completed my ayse, not had the opportunity to complete statutory placements(I did placements in private and charity). So, for me, being able to apply for one of the social work assistant/social care officer/social work support roles is a great chance for me to enter the profession. So, don’t assume these “support workers” are unqualified or inexperienced. I imagine I’m not the only qualified social work graduate applying for these roles, so they’ll be getting good value for money.

  14. Ruth Cartwright February 26, 2016 at 5:38 pm #

    Don’t all rush to Peterborough! The salary is average so includes people on higher salaries, eg Senior Practitioners and Team Managers, and also includes ‘on costs’ (recruitment, pension, etc), so most social workers probably earn about two thirds of £41,250, ie about £28-£30,000. Also I wouldn’t be rushing to work in a place where social work skills, knowledge and values are so under-appreciated that social workers can be replaced by people without a SW qualification. Support staff are great and have their place but this wholesale replacement of social workers implies an ‘anyone can do it’ attitude which disrespects the work we have done to become qualified. I’m also intrigued to know how the LA identified the ‘less complex’ cases – such cases have a habit of blowing up and becoming much more complex, and with thresholds usually so high, I can’t see how there are vast numbers of less complex situations for the support workers to work with. I wouldn’t want to work in Peterborough as a support worker either, to be honest – big risk of being placed in a situation not qualified or able to deal with.

  15. Albert Trigg February 26, 2016 at 8:03 pm #

    The social workers should walk out
    They are complicit in the attempted dilution of their profession
    If all LA’s stated a similar scheme where would that leave the profession?

  16. MrMoonx February 26, 2016 at 8:20 pm #

    This is a very dangerous precedent and I’m surprised that social workers are allowing this to happen. We must do the direct work with children and families to be able to make those hard decisions. This is the erosion of child protection social work and we must stop it!

  17. Rachel February 26, 2016 at 10:38 pm #

    This is very concerning. A focus on saving money at the expense of experienced social workers supporting families. Support workers will no doubt be an asset to the team in the appropriate role, but direct work and the voice of the child is an essential part of social work; as serious case reviews have shown us. If social workers are reduced to writing assessments and reports without the regular contact with families, there is a real risk of something being missed, misunderstood or a child being left at risk of harm.

  18. Heather February 27, 2016 at 9:12 am #

    I would be more inclined to trust a teaching assistant than a lot of the fully trained social workers I have been unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of their assessments. They have no life experience, wisdom or decernment and can cause an awful lot of damage to families based on assumptions, misconceptions and opinions of people that I don’t feel that they are equipped to do.

  19. Sunny birch February 27, 2016 at 9:39 am #

    Again im fed up with this profession yet again more complex children coming into the system at no fault of there own.

    Professionals doing a hard demanding job and yet again the government not giving us the tools effectively to safeguard young people.

    What happens when something goes wrong we just replace head of service and change job titles and structures again.

    The way this job is going id rather work at ikea and not have the stress.

  20. socialworker February 27, 2016 at 10:03 am #

    Sounds an interesting idea.. FSW will do less complex work , supervised by qualified Social Workers.. Who will have a reduced workload? I think not.. Reality is that FSW will have to be ” fully supported” in every thing they do. 4 weeks training?. Why not reduce Social Work training to 6 months. Peterborough has always struggled to retain staff.. And anyone who knows Peterborough. Knows why!. Whilst all LA have to cut costs due to central gov restraints.. This is an approach that will put additional pressure on managers and experienced staff. Who will leave.. And what will be reduced? Not risk of harm to children. ?

  21. Anne February 27, 2016 at 10:19 am #

    So essentially giving social workers all the paperwork and complexities without the benefit of working directing with service users and making it more difficult for social workers to achieve success stories and feel like they have accomplished something and impacting social workers health and wellbeing

  22. Kayleigh February 27, 2016 at 7:56 pm #

    No disrespect to support workers as I myself did that role for over 8 years in residential, but this is really insulting to the social work professionals in my opinion.

    One thinking it’s possible to train someone in four weeks to be suitable to work with the complexities of each individual service user and families when we have spent 2/3 years training to gain our skills.
    Your basically saying our degree can be done over four weeks!!!! And our skills can be learnt over four weeks!! That’s ridiculous and frankly insulting.

    Then to have their pay reflect the starting wage of a newly qualified social worker! That’s shocking, why on earth would you go to uni now to get this degree when you can just go get a social workers job with out getting in debt….
    I will put money on the fact someone is going to get seriously hurt or something will go wrong!! You can not teach social work knowledge and skills in two weeks!!!

    • Jane Smith February 29, 2016 at 8:07 pm #

      I work in a LA that has dramaticly reduced the number of CIN cases. What were CIN cases are non statutory and are being worked as ‘troubled families’ cases. We have very high level cases, as the thresholds were recently made very high. The Family Support Workers are unbelievably undermined. Some have had a mass of experience working in CP teams but the respect from some management and social workers is, quite frankly bordering on disrespectful. So while I symathise with the social workers who feel undermined, I doubt they feel belittled and disrespected on a daily basis.
      My LA recruited 14 family workers, from all backgrounds. They were given no intensive training and have had little or no support. We are all here for the same reason but are treated very differently.

    • Jane Smith February 29, 2016 at 8:33 pm #

      Despite your efforts, you have been disrespectful towards family support workers.

  23. Jane Smith February 29, 2016 at 8:06 pm #

    I work in a LA that has dramaticly reduced the number of CIN cases. What were CIN cases are non statutory and are being worked as ‘troubled families’ cases. We have very high level cases, as the thresholds were recently made very high. The Family Support Workers are unbelievably undermined. Some have had a mass of experience working in CP teams but the respect from some management and social workers is, quite frankly bordering on disrespectful. So while I symathise with the social workers who feel undermined, I doubt they feel belittled and disrespected on a daily basis.
    My LA recruited 14 family workers, from all backgrounds. They were given no intensive training and have had little or no support. We are all here for the same reason but are treated very differently.

  24. Gemma March 1, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    I am a first year social work student, prior to that I worked in family support under a troubled families initiative for a local charity. I am already discovering that my practice had been oppressive (albeit never intentionally) and although I thought at the time it was empowering it was not. I regularly tried to get cases ‘stepped up’ but this rarely happened, therefore, I was left feeling overwhelmed with children in very risky situations. I feel family support workers have a place and if carefully supervised by a qualified social worker who can advise and question the practice of that individual, then great. However, the damage that can be done by lack of training and knowledge could cause a bad situation to get very much worse, with families losing confidence in the support which social care can provide.