Council goes public with concerns about social worker caseloads

An English local authority has taken the unusual step of publishing details of high caseloads in its children’s social work teams, revealing internal concerns about the impact on services and staff morale.

Some social workers at Middlesbrough Council are juggling caseloads of at least 40 children, according to a scrutiny report published ahead of the council’s next executive meeting on 14 August.

Many social workers work in the evenings and at weekends in order to meet deadlines for court and child protection processes.

“All cases are allocated to social workers throughout the service; however, this has meant that social workers have caseloads that are high and difficult to manage to ensure effective care planning for children,” found the report.

According to the scrutiny report, if the recommendations made by Lord Laming during his inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie were strictly applied, Middlesbrough’s safeguarding service would require 51 extra experienced social workers to bring individual caseloads down to a manageable level.

However, it adds: “It is recognised that this is an unrealistic request given current financial constraints and it is proposed that any increase in resources is implemented on a phased basis.”

It recommends recruiting 11 additional experienced social workers to ease the pressure on existing staff members, at a cost of almost £400,000 – with an agreement to review the situation in six months. Caseloads for newly qualified social workers should be capped at 15 children.

The report emphasises the cost to the council of high caseloads, which have led to problems retaining experienced social workers within the care planning teams. Some social workers have left to go to other authorities where caseloads are protected and overtime is paid if someone goes above their allocated caseload level.

Many burn out by the two-year point, citing high caseloads, limited admin support and “clunky” computer systems as their reasons for leaving.

Capacity issues are also incurring indirect costs. For example, courts can impose “wasted cost orders” against local authorities if social workers are unable to meet required timescales for assessments.

In addition, if children’s plans are delayed, children may remain in foster or residential placements for longer than needed, placing additional resource and budgeting pressures on the council.

Kirsty McGregor is Community Care’s workforce editor

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