Social services vacancy rate rises

Despite a number of government initiatives and increased
recruitment advertising by local authorities, the vacancy rate in
social services departments has actually increased,
writes Amy Taylor.

Figures out from the Employers’ Organisation for local
government show the average vacancy rate increased from 10.7 per
cent in 2003 to 11.1 per cent in 2004.

The increase comes despite falls in vacancy rates for
children’s social workers, from 11.8 per cent in 2003 to 11.4
per cent in 2004, and the survey mainly attributes the statistics
to a shortage of care staff in residential settings.

Part of this trend is due to an increase in vacancies for care
staff in children’s homes, which has gone up 2.2 per cent to
14.7. David Leah, a consultant working for the Children’s
Workforce Development Council, says that the government’s
Children’s Workforce Development Strategy, put out to
consultation last April, did not devote enough attention to this
group and that he hoped the final version would rectify this.

Stepping stone

However, he says that the strategy’s proposal for a single
qualifications framework, which aims to give the children’s
workforce greater flexibility in moving around the sector, should
help to improve the situation.

Other areas identified as contributing to the increase by the
survey are increases in vacancy rates for care staff in older
people’s homes, from 9.2 per cent to 12.3 per cent, and
adults’ homes from 10 per cent to 14 per cent.

Leah says that people often use such roles as a stepping stone
into other sorts of social care work but Ian Johnston, director of
the British Association of Social Workers, argues that this benefit
isn’t being promoted enough.

“More attention needs to be given to the fact that people
want to start somewhere with the opportunity to progress,” he

New Asset  
Ian Johnston

Johnston is also critical of the children’s workforce
strategy arguing that it fails to adequately address recruitment
and retention.

Emotionally demanding

Over recent years local authorities have introduced packages
designed to get people into social work such as golden hellos,
protected caseloads and paying for people’s training. While
on the children’s social work front this seems to be paying
off it is unclear where it leaves positions that don’t
require such qualifications.

Johnston says that the figures reflect a lack of investment in
recruitment for residential care positions and that this could be
due to the focus on recruiting social workers.

These types of jobs are also traditionally low paid and
physically and emotionally demanding which adds to the problem.

“You could probably earn more in you local supermarket
than in an older people’s home,” said Rachel Childs,
policy officer, community health and social care, at Help the

Step in the right direction

She agrees that there has been a drive towards increasing the
numbers of social workers and says that this profile raising now
needs to take place for other social care positions.

She says that the requirement for 50 per cent of care staff in
older people’s homes to be on NVQ level 2 by 2005-6 is a step
in the right direct but that a lot more needs to be done.

The publication of the Children Act 2004 and the
Children’s Workforce Strategy had meant that children’s
services were in the limelight but the adult social care green
paper and the forthcoming white paper on health and social care has
now changed this.

Childs says the documents represent a great opportunity to
reform the adults’ social care workforce as has happening in
the children’s sector.

While the difficulty in recruiting children’s social
workers is far from over the situation is improving and now some of
that energy needs to be diverted to other parts of the social care
workforce to prevent another crisis developing.

Social services workforce analysis main report 2004 from:

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