‘Inadequate’ service struggling with 41% agency social workers after practitioners leave over management changes

High caseloads and struggles to recruit social workers means improvement isn't 'fast enough' at children's services, inspectors find

The word 'recruit' spelt out
Photo: patpitchaya/Fotolia

An ‘inadequate’ children’s services isn’t improving fast enough as it struggles to recruit social workers and keep caseloads down, an Ofsted monitoring visit has found.

In the inspection of the service for looked after children at Tameside council, Ofsted found the quality of practice, supervision, management oversight and challenge by independent reviewing officers required “significant improvement”.

More broadly Ofsted branded Tameside’s difficulty to recruit a stable workforce as its “biggest challenge”. Ofsted acknowledged that leaders recognised this, and had made progress in appointing 17 people, however 41% of staff were still agency workers.

“The local authority has taken action to address the pace of improvement and has strengthened the management of the service, although in the short term this has resulted in a period of instability for the service, with a team manager, practice managers and a number of social workers leaving,” the report found.

High caseloads

Staff turnover had meant high caseloads and children experiencing changes of social worker, which had impacted on the quality of care planning, Ofsted said.

“The average caseload at the monitoring visit was 18.5; however, some social workers reported having caseloads of 26 to 28. Senior managers are aware of the range of caseloads. Caseloads have been reducing but continue to remain too high for some social workers.”

Social workers told inspectors they “did not have the capacity to do life story work” after Ofsted criticised the lack of it in some cases.

Young people in the service had also expressed concerned about “upcoming changes in senior management” and were “anxious that these would bring more changes again”.

“Senior leaders are aware of the impact of the impending changes at senior management level and have transition plans in place to ensure there is a smooth handover.

“If these are successful, the local authority may be able to expedite the pace of improvement that is needed,” inspectors concluded.

‘Key priorities’

Responding to the report, a spokesperson for Tameside council said it accepted Ofsted’s findings and were pleased for recognition of some of the progress that had been made.

“We will use their monitoring visit of our service for looked after children as a focus of our ongoing improvement work. Ofsted have once again acknowledged we have an accurate understanding or ourselves, the challenges we face and what we need to do to improve further,” the spokesperson said.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is social worker recruitment, which is also a regional and national issue. Ofsted recognise we are making every effort to recruit permanent staff with the relevant skills and experience to support children and this is now showing some positive results.  This remains at the top of our key priorities,” they added.

“We know there remains significant work to do to ensure children are supported in the best way possible and we remain unwavering in our commitment to deliver the improvement needed to make this happen.”

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9 Responses to ‘Inadequate’ service struggling with 41% agency social workers after practitioners leave over management changes

  1. Minola September 18, 2018 at 10:27 pm #

    I have just joined Tameside this year and love it, Colleagues are amazing and hope my 2 year contract is extended, yes there are issues but with the right management Team and the right support for SW’s and more recruitment of the right people Tameside will come through the other side of this and look forward to it.

  2. John September 19, 2018 at 7:55 am #

    This is exactly how it is, i came from agency to permanent and its an impossible job now. Some agency workers come in do little find in too tough and then go leaving a mess behind them. They need reporting to the HCPC. All local authorities should look at what their offering in respect in workload training and support. No wonder the profession is in crisis. And why let socisl workers with under 2 years experience join agencies, better policing required.

  3. sw111 September 19, 2018 at 10:23 am #

    It is no surprise that workers are leaving local authority as there is nil support; in fact there is punitive and inhumane approach of blaming and reporting the workers to hcpc, complete destroying their career.
    Why would anyone wish to remain with the local authority that expects the workers to be a robot, to get on with the work and local authority having no obligation of care and support to the workers – none.
    Taking into consideration the hcpc decision/sanctions, why would anyone wish to work for local authorities, like Lincolnshire, Manchester, Nottinghamshire and many others that blame workers but are defensive and protective of their management.
    Social work is completely failing its workers; are we deluded in believing it is doing any different to the families they are serving.

  4. Joanna Thomas September 19, 2018 at 3:49 pm #

    Case loads of 18.5? I was expected to hold 45 cases in one authority mentioned! 6 visits/meetings a day was the norm, and expected to write them all up, arrange and attend core groups; write court reports, conference reports and it went on and on. What support? none, just blame.

    • Erin September 19, 2018 at 9:01 pm #

      Exactly. I held 43 cases in a north west authority A mix of CP and court work. In supervision I advised that i could not manage the volume of work and the risk and was made to feel inadequate The toxic environment and working conditions became unbearable and to protect myself I left and noved away entirely from social work. My advice to others, get out , its just not worth it.

      • mary K September 20, 2018 at 7:28 pm #

        Erin, I applaud you moving away from Social Work. I have worked in frontline CP SW for almost 21 years now, and I cannot do it anymore. I’m burnt out physically and emotionally, and this type of work is not healthy, it’s harmful, punitive and blaming I am glad you got out; I handed in my two-month notice, and am looking forward to a CP free future and getting my life back. Anyone thinking of getting into CP work; don’t if you value your life, and personal time, as you won’t have any in a CP role.

  5. Seen it all before September 20, 2018 at 1:10 pm #

    I work in a ofsted rated good authority . There are some poor managers and poor practice that goes unchallenged. The senior leadership team tweet constantly about how good they are. Tome burning whilst Nero is fiddling comes to

  6. VickyJohnsonj September 22, 2018 at 1:22 am #

    This article saddens me but is accurate. I have worked there for a number of years. The management oversight reflects a much wider picture than practice manger/team manager level. There was little investment in teams for long term looked after children or care leavers despite the original Ofsted.Most of the interim/agency are at senior level and it is their decisions that have affected the progress of Tameside. There are some fantastic , committed agency staff that have invested heavily in Tameside – so thank you. Tameside will come out of this but need staff that commit whether they are agency or permanent.

  7. Jason B September 24, 2018 at 9:57 am #

    I started Tameside as an agency worker and enjoyed it that much I became permanent almost 12 months ago. Yes I have seen several changes in management and the case loads increasing, however I can also see a firm direction that we are taking. People need to beleive that together we can make Tameside ‘Good’ again. I do agree with John regarding agency workers leaving with cases a mess, I beleive they should be reported to the HCPC and their next employer informed.