Council’s £10m plan to tackle ‘unmanageable’ caseloads

Manchester council investment comes against backdrop of pressure to improve services following inadequate rating

Picture: Image broker/rex/shutterstock

A council plans to invest an extra £10m into its inadequate-rated children’s services over the next five years in a bid to bring social work caseloads to manageable levels.

Manchester council said the cash will be used to cut average caseloads from 24 to 18 per social worker.

An extra 86 social workers will be hired in order to improve frontline capacity and an extra 14 team managers recruited to boost the quality and frequency of supervision. Initially the council will turn to locums to fill posts but predicts improved permanent recruitment will see its agency staffing rate reduce from 35% to 20% by April 2018.

The council has already spent an extra £15.5m improving children’s services, including an emergency £1.5m cash injection approved in May, since Ofsted rated them inadequate in 2014. Inspectors found high caseloads “across all social work services” meant staff were often unable to address children’s needs effectively.

There are fears that failing a re-inspection could see Manchester’s services taken over by an independent trust.

‘High caseloads at root of poor practice’

A report drawn up by Manchester’s children’s services bosses, and presented to the council’s cabinet last week, found progress had been made since the 2014 Ofsted report. This included the recruitment of a stable senior leadership team and improved front door services. However, it warned social worker caseloads needed to be cut to an average of 18 per worker in order to deliver improvements at the pace needed.

“High caseloads are at the root of poor and inconsistent social work practice in Manchester; they are a barrier to sustaining the progress made to date and they will prevent the service achieving the required pace of improvement going forward,” the report said.

The council said “reasonable” caseloads would help lower staff turnover and sickness rates. The move would also attract more staff to join Manchester as there was evidence nationally that the “overwhelming” reasons social workers quit councils were unmanageable workloads and poor management support, the report said.

Timescales for interventions

To review the overall volume of work being handled by teams, and tackle concerns over ‘drift’ in children’s services, the council will also introduce “clear practice guidance” on timescales for different interventions. This will recommend:

  • Children in need case intervention – 3 to 9 months maximum
  • Child protection intervention – 6 to 12 months maximum
  • Looked after children – intervention to permanent/long term outcome 12 to 18 months

The changes will improve outcomes for children while reducing demand across services by the end of 2017-18, the council said.

Paul Marshall, Director of Children’s Services at Manchester council, said: “Now there is a stable and permanent leadership team in place, the timing is right to invest this additional money directly in social work staff over the next five years as part of our longer term strategy to reduce demand and sustain the improvements already made – so that services for children in the city are as effective and efficient as they need to be.

“A reduction in the number of caseloads each social worker has will mean that in the future outstanding social work practice will become the norm and not the exception – and that is exactly what we all want to achieve.

“More social workers, managing smaller caseloads, and working to the highest possible social work standards.”

Ofsted has warned councils they need to tackle social worker caseloads that are “too high”, after identifying it as a common problem in poorly performing authorities.

The watchdog said too many social workers were “pressing on in conditions that are unacceptable” as its annual social care report revealed concerns over caseload levels have been found at 14 councils inspected since January.

2 Responses to Council’s £10m plan to tackle ‘unmanageable’ caseloads

  1. Tom J July 5, 2016 at 9:55 am #

    ‘•Children in need case intervention – 3 to 9 months maximum •Child protection intervention – 6 to 12 months maximum’

    These tight timescales are being introduced by many Local Authorities. However these are much more worrying than people realise- many children and families need longer support than this and the answer is NOT that they therefore all need to be accommodated or adopted (despite current government thinking)

    Its almost as though the Children Act has been re written to say that the best place for a child is in their family ‘unless it costs too much and takes longer than we want it to’.

    Social work needs to become louder on this- I feel that many people are swallowing the government thinking hook line and sinker. Some social workers believe that the 26 week PLO timeframe is pushing children into long term stability and a brighter future.

    BUT there is no evidence that long term foster care or adoption is a bed of roses either. There should have been research into adoption breakdowns before the present rush to speed children through. Reading the comments of adopters on http://www.adoptiondisruptionuk.com it is shocking to see the number of placement break downs.

    This is not to say that adoption should be ended completely, but we should do all we can to keep children in their families- whereas at present all policy is to increase it whether that be the 12 month cp plan cap or 26 week timeframe in court.

    Modern social work is assessment heavy with a strong child protection discourse- this means that for the 12 months a child is on a plan it can often be the case that many assessments and tools are used, numerous meetings, many visits, various labels ‘impressively’ thrown at the parents (disguised compliant, domestic abuse), a few strategy meetings if there is anything that looks remotely risky BUT what are we actually doing to support and promote change? Who is spending the time to get alongside the child and the parent? Answer- No time. Gets in the way of key performance indicators.

    I actually think that social work SMART planning is anything but. I know that SMART plans are all the rage now- but not every problem can be solved in a tidy, quick and linear way- There are some issues that need longer term support.

    This speed is need approach is shocking. Its astounding that if a mother cannot resolve her alcohol dependency within the PLO 26 week time frame her child will be adopted and removed for life!

    • Beth July 6, 2016 at 4:08 pm #

      I agree it’s truly shocking! Time frames for change! Appalling! I can’t continue to work in children’s social work like this! I am known for my work/initiating change but sometimes it takes time to build the trust with children and their families!
      I just feel that my skills are not valued and that LA’s want people who can type fast so that the assessments are completed in time frames to please ofsted!
      18 cases if they are individual children is too many to make a real difference.