Staff shortages in children’s departments are being tackled with a £73m cash boost, but similar problems in adults’ services are overlooked, finds Andrew Mickel
No one is under any illusion that there is not a shortage of children’s social workers in the UK. But the common assumption that the problem is less severe in adult care is undermined by exclusive research by Community Care which shows that the difference between vacancy rates for children’s and adults social workers in England is narrower than is widely assumed.
However, the investment being put into the workforce bears little relation to the balance of vacancies on the ground. Some £73m has been committed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families to developing children’s social workers as part of the Children’s Plan from 2008 to 2011. That was even before the Baby P fallout focused the minds of council chiefs on doing something about shortages.
Sums and plans
But there are neither grand sums of cash nor similarly structured plans for developing the adults’ workforce – and other agencies remain similarly focused on the children’s workforce. Only in March, the Local Government Association launched a campaign to lure back 5,000 professionals who have recently left children’s social work.
“Being a children’s social worker is one of the toughest jobs in the country, and for councils it is the hardest job to fill,” LGA chair Margaret Eaton says. “Councils face difficulties in recruiting and retaining high-calibre social workers, who are essential to maintaining the safety net which works to protect thousands of children daily.
“[But] it would be a mistake to take our eye off the ball where adult social workers are concerned. They face many of the same difficulties in doing their job, and deserve to be held in just as high esteem as those who care for children. The approach that we are applying to children’s social workers should have a knock-on effect across the profession.”
The LGA executive has instead considered running a campaign to recruit adult care social workers in the second half of this year. But the disparity in investing in recruitment for the two workforces doesn’t end there.
The Children’s Workforce Development Council is piecing together a recruitment campaign on a grander scale. Although the CWDC is cagey about the details of the campaign it is likely to run in print and on TV and make a talking point of children’s social workers.
Such campaigns cost much more than is now available to the adult social care workforce body, Skills for Care. Chief executive Andrea Rowe says, although investment is needed, “the newly qualified social worker programme will go some way to improving the vacancy rate [by improving retention]. That was essential once the children’s workforce had done it, and it will make a difference to keeping them in their jobs”.
But there is a difference too between how grand the NQSW programmes for adults and children’s will be. The CWDC’s pilot programme gives a local authority £4,000 for taking on a newly qualified children’s social worker, plus access to a further £2.25m nationally to support their tutors and supervisors. For a newly qualified adults’ social worker, a sum of £2,000 is split equally between the council and the supervisor, assuming that the local authority applied to Skills for Care in the short time frame that the offer was made available.
Jo Cleary, executive director of adults and community services and co-chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services workforce development network, welcomes the additional funding, but says: “We’re concerned about the differential between adults’ and children’s. The Department of Health will go out soon with its strategy for the workforce in adult social care and we hope that the issues on pay and support will be dealt with.”
That strategy could produce the sort of structure that the Children’s Plan has created for the children’s workforce to develop around. But there is a more fundamental problem in how quickly the disparity of investment can be narrowed. The basic allocations of funding for both the DSCF and DH were dictated by the 2008-11 comprehensive spending plans. So there will not be a change for at least the next two years.
The effects of that can be seen on the ground. “What’s contributing to my vacancy rates in Lambeth? Some of it’s the London factor, and there’s an issue of remuneration,” Cleary says. “There are more golden handcuffs in children’s services so there’s a real differential with adults now.”
There is a glimmer of hope for future changes so that adult social care can receive more funding from central government. Nushra Mansuri, a professional officer for England at the British Association of Social Workers, suggests that there are now several social work figures inside the DH who could “set it as a priority”, namely David Behan, director general of social care.
“The DCSF seems to have a more generous budget and that’s frustrating for us,” says Mansuri. “But if we have a base of former social work directors in the Department of Health, then we need them to act as a voice for [adult] social work.”
This article first appead in the 16 April issue of Community Care
under the title “It’s all weighted against adult social care”