Employing support workers to hold “low level” child in need cases has helped reduce social work caseloads in Peterborough, the council has said.
Average social worker caseloads in children’s services have reduced from 26 to under 20 under the pilot scheme, which was introduced in April and will run until March this year. The support staff, who are not social work qualified, hold around 15 cases each.
The plans caused controversy when announced last year. At the time a council report said two social worker posts could be cut for every three support workers appointed, leading to unions warning some social workers felt “undermined” by having “unqualified” staff doing their jobs.
However, the council says no social worker posts were deleted and it is hoping to increase social work numbers if a bid for funding to introduce a family safeguarding model to services is successful.
Recruitment and retention
Nicola Curley, Peterborough’s assistant director for children’s services, said the progress made on cutting caseloads could help with recruitment and retention.
“You need to attract social workers to your area, there’s only so many of them, one of the reasons they either don’t come or don’t stay is very high caseloads and they don’t want to work in that kind of environment,” she said.
“We haven’t reduced any social work posts, and one of the issues around that was we were always clear is we would only reduce social work posts if we were able to do that safely and that was appropriate in terms of our demand.
“The volume of work hasn’t changed significantly. When we then wanted to look at family safeguarding, that model is to increase your social workers, certainly in the initial phase. There’s no point [in reducing] social workers. Actually what we’re going to do is boost them.”
Under the pilot scheme, support workers sit in a team with six qualified social workers, including two advanced practitioners and a team manager. After cases pass through assessments they are allocated by the team manager based on the level of support that is needed.
Non-social work qualified staff take on about 40% of child in need cases – described by Curley as “lower need” – while more serious cases are taken on by qualified social workers. If cases escalate, they are reallocated to a qualified social worker in the same team to keep continuity for the family.
Curley said it was key that support workers received the same level of supervision as their social work colleagues, as well as ongoing training. She said feedback from staff on the pilot has been “very positive”, adding: “Our audits are independently saying what we’ve got is increased and focused visiting to those kind of children and the child in need meetings are much more frequent and purposeful.”
Peterborough Unison branch secretary Mark Burn said since the scheme was introduced it has not “replaced or removed” social workers, and staff weren’t expressing discontentment with how it worked. Unison were initially critical of the scheme.