by Julie Griffiths
Support workers have replaced social workers on some cases in children’s services at Peterborough City Council.
A pilot scheme has seen 20 specialist support workers recruited, all of whom have caseloads of 15-20 under the supervision of qualified social workers.
A report submitted to the council’s cabinet earlier this month said two social worker posts could be cut for every three support workers appointed, with posts filled by agency staff first to go.
The plan was to reduce social worker posts from 83 to 70 but the council told Community Care this may change depending on the pilot results.
Wendi Ogle-Welbourn, Peterborough’s corporate director for people and communities, said: “Obviously we can’t give unqualified workers the more complex work. They do some of the less complicated cases.
“All assessments of families will be done by qualified social workers, but support workers can then take on some of the direct work with families and that will free up social workers’ time.”
Package of changes
The scheme is part of a number of changes to improve children services following an Ofsted Inspection of Children’s Social Care, which gave the department a rating of ‘need to improve’ last year.
The council has also implemented a bonus recruitment and retention scheme for new social workers to the service.
The package of reforms is expected to save £400,000 next year. It is designed to address recruitment and retention problems that saw the council spend £1.8m on agency social workers in the year up to September 2015.
The support workers are paid around £26,000-a-year. Peterborough’s social workers cost the council an average of £41,250-a-year in salary and employment benefits, such as pension contributions. The average cost of an agency social worker is £71,000-a-year, the cabinet report said.
Support worker training
Ogle-Welbourn said the support workers had previous experience or qualifications in child-related areas, such as teaching assistants, youth workers and childcare.
She added that they had been given four weeks of intensive training by the council before they began work.
“It was a very comprehensive induction programme that covered things like working with challenging families, mental health and substance misuse, and neglect,” said Ogle-Welbourn.
She added that, four months into the pilot, the new system had reduced social worker caseloads from 25 to 19.
But Rona Hendry, Unison branch secretary for Peterborough City Council, said that some social workers were unhappy about the new arrangement.
“They feel undermined. They’ve said how can it be right to have unqualified people doing our jobs?” she said.
Social work bonus package
To address the shortage of permanent social workers, the council is offering new starters a 20% bonus of their starting salary, spread over three years.
New social workers receive a bonus of 2.5% of their starting salary after the first year and 7.5% after year two. After the third year of service, a 10% bonus will be paid.
According to recruiters Reed, the average salary for a social worker is £41,939 but this figure is likely to include manager salaries. Official statistics on social worker pay are available for adult services. The figures, published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, found the average social worker salary was £32,100 in 2015.
But social workers already in post will not qualify for the Peterborough bonus scheme. They are part of an existing retention bonus scheme to which new recruits would move after their first three years.
The retention scheme offers an annual bonus, ranging from £500 for grade nine to £3,000 for grade 12.
*This article was amended on 26 February to reflect the fact that £41,250-a-year was the cost of social workers to the council, including employment benefits, rather than the salary alone. The Health and Social Care Information Centre salary estimate was also added.