Staff shortages still persist in children’s services

Children’s services are still being hit by recruitment and retention problems, according to a local authority workforce report from the Local Government Association.

Vacancy rates for care staff in children’s homes was 15 per cent compared with 12.3 per cent in adults’ homes in the year to September 2005.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of local authorities had difficulties recruiting children’s social workers and 40 per cent had problems retaining them.

Regional variations still persist with London social care vacancy rates (14.8 per cent) more than double that of the North East (7.1 per cent) and the South West (6.4 per cent). 

There have been steady improvements, however, in the entire social care workforce, annual turnover fell from 13.1 per cent in 2004 to 11.6 per cent in 2005 and less than the 13.9 per cent in 2001. Overall total workforce vacancy rates fell from 11.1 per cent in 2004 to 10.5 per cent in 2005.

There has been an increase in the numbers of children’s social workers (3.1 per cent to 24,340) and adult social workers (2.3 per cent to 22,870) in the period to September 2005 but this was not enough to offset shortages.

Councils cited suitability and the nature of the work as reasons for the shortfall. More than three-quarters of authorities cited a lack of suitably qualified candidates as a reason for recruitment and retention difficulties in children’s social work, with 66 per cent claiming the same in adult service areas. And more than half said “the nature of the work” was a key recruitment and retention barrier in children’s social work while 41 per cent cited pay, as did 37 per cent for adult social work.

Competition from the voluntary and private sector was also another key reason for problems.

This is despite councils  making efforts to recruit more staff through “grow your own” initiatives, and training staff and assistants. Training assistants and better use of IT were the most popular methods used to recruit and retain staff with 88 and 63 per cent of all councils respectively.

Spending on training has also increased to £36.4m up from £21m in 2003-4 with more than half being spent on filed social workers. In addition spending of DipSW or degree courses also increased to £20m (from £13m in 2004) with 2,849 social workers were being seconded to DipSW/degree courses (up from 1,911 in 2004). 

Ann Harrison, development manager for social care at the Children’s Workforce Development Council, said that good quality continuing professional development is vital for recruitment and retention. The CWDC is to continue to work with employers on what they are looking for in staff.

Workforce consultant Vic Citarella, who helped produce the report, said: “The message is that investment in training and workforce development is something that has to be sustained over time.”

About a quarter of new starters were first appointments in social work. Turnover rates were highest in East Midlands and London (just over 13 per cent in both cases) with home care staff and care staff in older people’s homes having the highest turnover nationally (again both over 13 per cent).

• For more on staffing in the UK, go to
Local Authority Social Care Workforce Survey 2005


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