Children’s social work vacancies in England rose 27% in the past year according to figures collected by the Department for Education.
The DfE’s latest statistics on the children’s social work workforce reported that there were 5,470 full-time equivalent social worker vacancies at 30 September 2015, up from 4,320 in 2014.
The DfE report, which is based on data provided voluntarily by local authorities, described the rise as “unexpected” and suggested that it could in part be explained by data quality issues.
The statistics also reported that the number of children’s social workers increased 7% to 28,570 on 2014 and that the average caseload was 15 children per social worker, down one child on last year.
However, the DfE said these changes were probably due to this year’s data including figures for managers for the first time.
London under pressure
The figures also revealed that recruitment and retention pressures are greatest in London. While the average rate of turnover of social workers in England was 16%, the figure is 21% in inner London and 23% in outer London.
London authorities were also the most reliant on agency staff. A quarter of social workers in inner London were supplied by agencies. In outer London the figure rose to 30%.
In comparison Yorkshire and the Humber region had the lowest levels of turnover in the country at 12% and a caseload average of 12 children per social worker. Use of agency staff was also lowest in Yorkshire and the Humber at 6%.
Most of the 4,860 full-time equivalent agency social workers employed by English local authorities are covering the country’s 5,470 vacancies.
Rachael Wardell, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ workforce development policy committee, said: “We know that high-quality social workers are vital to the task of improving outcomes for some of our most vulnerable children and their families and the key to delivering sustainable, good services is stability of the workforce.
“Children and families themselves tell us that this makes a big difference to the services they receive yet each local authority faces its own challenges with recruitment and retention.
“As leaders of children’s services we are absolutely committed to promoting one of the most important professions in the country by encouraging better public understanding of the role and we hope that the government’s continued investment in the social work profession will contribute to this aim.”