Government resources should be ploughed into retaining qualified social workers rather than training new ones, a study has claimed.
The report, published in the British Journal of Social Work, found the cost of qualifying a social worker to be disproportionately high compared with other professions because the sector has such a high turnover rate.
Social workers practise for just under eight years on average, whereas nurses spend 16 years in their profession and physiotherapists 24.
However, the research found the cost of qualifying and training a social worker was £20,097 a year, compared with £6,518 for nurses and £4,501 for physiotherapists.
The calculations took into account placement supervision, tuition and living costs.
“Given the level of investment necessary to train social worker, this suggests it may be preferable to invest resources in policies to retain current [rather than recruit and train new] social workers,” the study said.
However, Andrew Cozens, the Local Government Association’s strategic lead for adult services, said that savings in one part of the system are rarely passed on to another.
“The problem is where the money is,” he said. “The cost of training social workers is covered through higher education funding and the cost of retention is covered by employers.”
He called for a whole-system approach to funding social work training and retention.
Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, said the research did not indicate that there should be any restrictions on the number of student social work places, in order to better finance retention.
“I don’t think our workforce planning is good enough; we don’t know how many to train,” he said.
He warned that councils could find themselves short of new social workers if places were cut.
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