From struggling to success in 18 months – Wiltshire Council’s social care journey

A feature sponsored by Wiltshire Council

Innovative and committed, Wiltshire Council has transformed recruitment and retention of Social Care

Eighteen months ago, Wiltshire Council was carrying significant vacancies in Children’s and Adult social care. It was becoming a huge risk to the council, as the departments were heavily relying on agency staff. Because of this, Wiltshire worked hard to recruit committed and forward-thinking social care professionals. And it’s proving to be a success.  

The vision

At Wiltshire Council, Children’s and Adult social care started addressing their social work issues with a vision. This established what they wanted from future social workers, and ensured that whatever they did moving forward wasn’t just a quick fix, but a solution that had a positive long-term impact.

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Terence Herbert

Terence Herbert, Associate Director for Operational Children’s Services, explained the vision:

We were looking to create a stable workforce of high calibre social workers who weren’t just up-to-date on research and practice. They had to be committed to their customers. We also wanted them stay with us long enough to make a difference to our services. So they needed to be progressive, ask questions and be prepared to challenge the council if it meant getting the best outcomes for the people in their care.”


Wiltshire knew that to truly change the position they were in would take more than a simple recruitment campaign. So the HR & OD team worked closely with the services to redefine how it brought social workers into the organisation.

Wiltshire recognised that one way to improve their offering was to increase the establishment of social workers. While many might see this as counter intuitive, it was a huge part of the council’s current success. Now, the council can promise social workers in children’s services a caseload of 18 (16 for newly qualified) giving them more time to spend with people in their care.

Wiltshire then developed a recruitment campaign using their employer brand. Central to this was a new microsite that included videos featuring current social workers and children in care.  There was also comprehensive social media strategy, which tapped into candidates across social networks.

Joanne Pitt, Head of HR an OD, said:

“We’ve been using technology in different ways to attract people to the organisation. One that was particularly successful was the implementation of social media. It showed us that the common perception of social workers not using social media was a complete fallacy.”

Developing the future

However, Wiltshire wasn’t immune to the national concerns over the lack of social workers available. Because of this, they focused on their development offering, implementing programmes to help support newly qualified social workers. Grouped into ‘pods’ of four; they’re supported by Aspiring Managers, which is a new role within the council. Other initiatives such as ‘grow our own’ and ‘return to social work’ have also been introduced:

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Carolyn Hamblett

Carolyn Hamblett, acting Associate Director for Adult Social Care Operations, talked about this:

“We’ve worked to ‘grow our own’ staff by supporting them through training, and introducing a ‘return to social work’ scheme. We’ve also taken a personalised approach to recruitment with our Principal Social Workers talking to all of our applicants.”

Embracing the new

Another way the council is working hard to retain their talented social workers in through new technologies and ideas. For example, social workers can now work remotely by using mobile devices such as tablets and laptops.

Terence Herbert said:

“With mobile working, social workers can upload their notes, minutes and reports directly into the system without having to be in the office. It means that wherever they are, they can find more time to do their job. We’ve also made arrangements with our partner organisations to allow our social workers to be based in their schools or offices.”

However, this isn’t the only way Wiltshire are establishing themselves as a council that doesn’t stand still. Another example of this is the newly formed multi-agency Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Team. As a specialist division at the council, it works with partners and the police to provide a service that makes a real and important difference to the local community.

Herbert elaborated:

“The CSE Team is just one of the many things that shows how the council is always striving to improve. It’s very well funded and resourced, and it allows social workers in our organisation to specialise, offering better services for vulnerable people in our community.”


Wiltshire Council now find themselves in a much more promising position, by filling a majority of their vacancies and reducing the reliance on external agencies. In fact, 177 social workers and managers have been appointed across both children’s and adults. Children’s services have filled 79% of vacancies, while Adult services have filled 80% of theirs. There are now only 13 vacancies left in Children’s Safeguarding and Assessment, traditionally the hardest service to fill, making the 79% success rate hugely impressive

Hamblett agreed:

“It’s been a great experience undertaking the recruitment process with our colleagues from Children’s Services. It’s enabled us to access more potential candidates, while ensuring that the right people are applying for appropriate posts in the relevant services.”

Another key success of the campaign is the unbeatable retention rate; 100% of social workers recruited throughout the campaign period within operational children’s services are still working at the council. In addition their overall turnover has reduced from 21.2% to 7.2% in the same period.

Plans for the future

Moving into the future, the council recognises that to continuously achieve their ambitions, they must build on the success of the last 18 months.

Hamblett commented:

“As we look forward, we plan to develop the services more. This includes locally based teams working with colleagues from Health and other partner agencies. And so we can embed the principles of the Care Act, we plan to create person-centred and outcome-based services that promote independence and safeguard the people in our care.”

Pitt finally added:

“The retention of social workers at the council is a big sign that we are delivering on the promises of our campaign. Turnover is a lot healthier than it used to be, and our initiatives are ensuring that we keep hold of the right people. We’ve worked hard to create an infrastructure, through technology, benefits, learning and development, that makes them want to stay. The feedback shows that there’s really good supervision and support, and that’s reflected in the great culture within social care services at the council.”

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