Efforts to curb social worker caseloads hampered by council’s recruitment struggles

Suffolk County Council report says hiring experienced social workers is "especially challenging"

Recruitment and retention struggles are undermining attempts to give Suffolk social workers more manageable caseloads, the council’s cabinet has been told.

The council’s annual report on children’s social care says that the authority is struggling to find and keep experienced social workers on staff and this was hampering efforts to ease workloads as recommended by Ofsted recommended following its June 2013 inspection of services in Suffolk.

The report reveals that while caseloads and staff turnover has fallen slightly, there are 33 social workers with more than 25 cases including 14 who have more than 30 cases to manage.

It says recruitment challenges are the “key factor” preventing the council from reducing caseloads faster and that there are currently 27 social worker vacancies and 8 unfilled senior practitioner posts in children’s social care in Suffolk. These posts are being covered by 27 locum social workers.

“The recruitment and retention of suitably qualified and experienced social work staff continues to be the greatest challenge for specialist teams,” says the report.

It added that finding experienced social workers was especially challenging with less than 10% of the frontline social workers hired in the past year having “any appreciable previous experience”.

The report says the council has tried to address the problem by spending more money on making Suffolk’s employment offer more competitive with those of other East of England authorities.

“Improved renumeration is one factor that will contribute to this aim alongside the quality of professional supervision and support, opportunities for professional development and working with manageable caseloads,” says the report.

The council is also planning to launch a career progression pathway for social workers and aspiring managers in September.

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for England at the British Association of Social Workers, told BBC Radio Suffolk that similar recruitment and caseload problems are commonplace in councils across the country.

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3 Responses to Efforts to curb social worker caseloads hampered by council’s recruitment struggles

  1. Anonymous June 12, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    I recently left Suffolk CYPS after twelve years’ service and the content of this article comes as no surprise. Quite simply, Suffolk CYPS do not value their experienced, committed staff. For example, for over two years I did not have a Professional Development Plan completed; a clear indicator that there was no professional development or career pathway planning in place, leaving me with little option but to secure a post with another authority. This situation had become increasingly commonplace amongst experienced, ‘in house’ workers since the start of 2013.

    It was increasingly evident that experienced social workers were effectively being ‘squeezed out’, to be replaced by the increasing numbers of locums and NQSWs being employed. It felt very much as if the team I was in was being privatised and de-skilled, leaving the experienced workers as a demoralised, overlooked minority with no vital role within it. Factor in the poor renumeration with Suffolk (by far the ‘poor relation’ in comparison to its neighbouring authorities), and it doesn’t take a rocket scientisit to see why Suffolk have a recruitment and retention crisis ‘on their hands’.

    Clearly Suffolk CYPS need to start to more closely and creatively considering the needs and plight of its experienced workers. My now mainly departed ex-colleagues and I potentially had a lot more to offer the department and would have remained with Suffolk if anyone had responded to our voiced frustrations or had we in any way gained a sense that our skills and aptitudes were valued. I was not even offered an exit interview which ‘tells its own story’.

    I hope, for Suffolk’s sake, they do introduce a decent career progression pathway policy for S/Ws and aspiring managers this September. Too late for me and many others, but perhaps, finally, Suffolk CYPS will start to listen to and value their experienced social workers?

  2. Alan June 12, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    In general reducing case loads have no chance of being reduced with the reforms being imposed on the general public as well as on service providers, the recipe is perfect for an increase in demand, e.g. the increase in people especially children living in poverty. How can provision be curtailed when demand is on the increase. I know some will argue that demand is not on the increase and in some areas I can see why, the local social services have reduced what they offer so people are being denied. Restore services and the increase will be like a tidal surge.

  3. Anonymous June 13, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    I believe this is an issue across many local authorities, colleagues are leaving their positions or the profession; the reasons they site, is not feeling valued or respected for their professiolism, knowledge, expertise and commitment to the role of social work. Something needs to be done urgently, otherwise we risk the attempts being made to give crediablity to the profession of social work. In my Local Authority, I am seeing more and more social work colleagues leaving their posts and going to work for agencies, this has become the sad reality of the profession. Furthermore I believe there is a social work movement going on, but noone appears to have noticed – social workers want better pay, and working conditions and if they cannot secure this through perm posts, then they are voting with their feet and signning up with recruitment agencies – thus LA’s end up paying more, to fill the staffing gaps in services.

    Our proferssion has been hit hard my so many factors, but we need to hold onto good experienced social workers, otherwise there will be no one there to support the training and development of the next generation, and deliver the vital services to children, families and adult services – come on those who have an influence, do something good for the profession!