Ex-staff slam Birmingham over children’s services work culture

High caseloads and a culture of “sink or swim” have been driving social workers out of Birmingham Council’s children’s services, former employees have told Community Care. They have raised concerns that staff are overworked and “inexperienced” student social workers have been given serious cases without adequate supervision.

The individuals contacted Community Care after the council’s vulnerable children overview and scrutiny committee raised concerns over high vacancy rates and the large number of inexperienced staff within teams facing “demanding casework beyond their skills and abilities”. It also said the council was recruiting several social workers from the US.

Currently, there are 63 vacancies out of a total of 430 children’s social work posts. The committee is looking at why 23 staff from a variety of posts left between March 2006 and August this year.

Speaking anonymously to Community Care, one recent former employee claimed a student on placement was “left with child protection cases with an expectation to perform tasks way beyond their expertise”.
She added: “The entire team was stressed and in team meetings people would say ‘I have got enough on my plate’ but were still given more cases.”

A former social work student told Community Care he had received no induction. “I was immediately given a case that involved severe neglect. I found this highly inappropriate,” he said.

In response, Tony Howell, strategic director for children, young people and families at Birmingham Council, said he was “surprised” by the comments.
He added: “Workers’ workloads are managed, but it is also expected that all staff have a throughput of work. Birmingham, like other cities, does have a turnover of staff, and many staff who leave our service move on to promotions in other organisations. We are in the process of developing a retention strategy for social work staff and this should be completed by early next year.”

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