Social worker recruitment and retention among biggest risks facing children’s services, say leaders

A new survey found social work leaders were also concerned about social work practice being 'variable'

Photo: WavebreakMediaMicro/Fotolia
Photo: WavebreakMediaMicro/Fotolia

Councils’ ability to recruit and retain high-quality social workers is one of the biggest risks to the future delivery of children’s services, senior leaders have said.

Managers and leaders in children’s services were concerned about recruiting and retaining staff over the next three years, according to a research study about the state of children’s services in England, backed by the Department for Education.

The survey of up to 91 local authorities in England also found a third worried about social worker practice “becoming or continuing to be variable”.

Senior leaders were asked to pick three main risks to children’s services over the next three years. The top three concerns were financial pressures (89%), and an inability to recruit (57%) and retain (51%) high quality social workers.

At the time the survey was carried out in September and October last year, 42% of authorities were ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ confident about having enough social workers to meet demand over the following 12 months.

“On balance, [local authorities] were confident about the short-term future of their social care workforce, but a notable minority did have some concerns over whether they would have sufficient staff in the future,” the report said.

The findings were from the first wave of research commissioned by the Department for Education designed to provide “a clear and up-to-date understanding of the key issues facing children’s services, and of local authorities’ implementation of policy related to children’s services”.

Children’s minister Robert Goodwill, said the government has introduced new legislation and plans that will “further strengthen protection for the most vulnerable children”.

“Councils increased spending on children’s social care to nearly £7 billion last year and we are empowering councils to develop new and better ways of delivering these services. Alongside this, we are supporting the recruitment and training of social workers so they have the skills they need for this important job, investing over £750 million in bursaries and training programmes,” Goodwill said.

7 Responses to Social worker recruitment and retention among biggest risks facing children’s services, say leaders

  1. Angela Mcclintock August 6, 2017 at 7:14 pm #

    This is also a huge problem for social workers in the US as well. Until legislators realize the millions they could save putting money into social work-and social service programs instead of the billions day put into jails and reactive solutions, this will continue. The case loads that social workers are expected to carry are not pieces of paper, they are children’s lives. Social work burnout is a real thing due to secondary trauma. I write a blog weekly to encourage social workers And knowing that they’re not alone

  2. LongtimeSW August 7, 2017 at 2:14 pm #

    It’s all a bit “no xxxx Sherlock” – Not been heard, listened to or acknowledged for the last 3 years or so – inevitable that people will walk and not come back

    • julie mcnicholas August 7, 2017 at 10:11 pm #

      A stressful thankless profession, required to work with an unmanageable caseload with little or no support. I was fortunate enough to take early retirement last year. If i hadn’t done i think i would have needed social work intervention myself…

  3. Katie Politico August 7, 2017 at 4:12 pm #

    Children’s minister, Robert Goodwill, is an out and out liar. Those of us who work on the frontline of statutory child protection know this. Those services that haven’t been axed are stripped to the bone as LAs try to cope with ever-decreasing funds. The department for education does not need to spend more money on more research to understand a problem that is obvious. It leads me to believe that ministers have research organisations on their asset portfolios and that they view the myriad research projects already underway as yet another way of feeding their addiction to money. Also the mantra that ‘it’s not just about money’ needs to stop since it clearly is. We know the difference between a bargain basement purchase from Argos and top-end retailer Heals, the former having a much shorter life and poorer quality than the latter. Similar applies to the provision or procurement of services – you get what you pay for.

    • Katie Politico August 7, 2017 at 10:36 pm #

      In reply to Angela McClintock – legislators do realise the millions, ney billions, that would be saved by investing in preventative services. They are not stupid, rather they are driven by their political masters’ ideology, rooted in a previous era – in the British context this being the Victorian era in which the uneducated masses accepted their lowly positions in life and their rulers reiterated that their lot was of their own making, through their own wrong choices. What is interesting is how the intervening years of enlightenment and social progress (from 1945 to 1979 in the British context) have been so swiftly and indelibly eradicated by this ideology. And more interesting still is why the disaffected masses, who are no longer denied an education, of sorts, and who have access to mass media, collude in their disaffection.

      • Jon Clark August 8, 2017 at 10:38 am #

        Brilliantly said Katie, however I would suggest that the continued collusion of disaffection is a form of learnt behaviour in which the disaffected masses believe that they are not worth investing in or that their future and those of their children can be changed. After generations of being given this message by ” their rulers” many families are unable to see past or change their label and circumstances despite the , albeit low and restricted, ability to do so.

  4. Debra August 7, 2017 at 11:27 pm #

    I have been a children’s social worker for 14 years. Iv worked 12 years in CP and 2 years in LAC. I am AIM”s trained, ABE trained and have like many social workers so much experience in varied areas of social work. I spent a lot of my working time tired, overworked, carrying to many cases and often burnt out and received poor supervision. I continued, as I actually cared and loved the job, i continued to hope that things would improve. More and more time was spent on paperwork and juggling cases these cases being children’s lives. I worked in statutory. During the last 5 years of work more and more permanent staff left due to high case loads, not being listened to and in many cases bullying by managers should they dare to speak out . Supervision was extremely poor and the LA lost a lot of excellent staff. The department was staffed with agency workers of which the majority were excellent, though even these folk were leaving also due to high case loads. Reluctuntly and with a heavy heart I left for some time away as I was tired and frustrated. I have been away from social work for a year. I miss social work – I miss what it should be…. it should be about quality for children and families. I know I have so many skills that I can offer children and families but I am frankly scared that returning would inevitably mean I will end up in the same position again.

    Whilst away from social work I have thought extensively of other careers and at the same time i have been drawn to do further training which has been related to social work, this is obviously where I want to be. I don’t know if I can trust a local authority to care about its social workers. Do I return as an agency worker so that it’s easier to move on, should staff care be poor and opportunities to really work with families not happen… as of yet I am not sure.
    The powers that be are still not listening to social workers and issues within children’s services are seemingly getting worse, unless, anyone knows of anywhere presently that is a positive environment to work and where children and families are afforded quality social work.

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