A council plans to invest an extra £10m into its inadequate-rated children’s services over the next five years in a bid to bring social work caseloads to manageable levels.
Manchester council said the cash will be used to cut average caseloads from 24 to 18 per social worker.
An extra 86 social workers will be hired in order to improve frontline capacity and an extra 14 team managers recruited to boost the quality and frequency of supervision. Initially the council will turn to locums to fill posts but predicts improved permanent recruitment will see its agency staffing rate reduce from 35% to 20% by April 2018.
The council has already spent an extra £15.5m improving children’s services, including an emergency £1.5m cash injection approved in May, since Ofsted rated them inadequate in 2014. Inspectors found high caseloads “across all social work services” meant staff were often unable to address children’s needs effectively.
There are fears that failing a re-inspection could see Manchester’s services taken over by an independent trust.
‘High caseloads at root of poor practice’
A report drawn up by Manchester’s children’s services bosses, and presented to the council’s cabinet last week, found progress had been made since the 2014 Ofsted report. This included the recruitment of a stable senior leadership team and improved front door services. However, it warned social worker caseloads needed to be cut to an average of 18 per worker in order to deliver improvements at the pace needed.
“High caseloads are at the root of poor and inconsistent social work practice in Manchester; they are a barrier to sustaining the progress made to date and they will prevent the service achieving the required pace of improvement going forward,” the report said.
The council said “reasonable” caseloads would help lower staff turnover and sickness rates. The move would also attract more staff to join Manchester as there was evidence nationally that the “overwhelming” reasons social workers quit councils were unmanageable workloads and poor management support, the report said.
Timescales for interventions
To review the overall volume of work being handled by teams, and tackle concerns over ‘drift’ in children’s services, the council will also introduce “clear practice guidance” on timescales for different interventions. This will recommend:
- Children in need case intervention – 3 to 9 months maximum
- Child protection intervention – 6 to 12 months maximum
- Looked after children – intervention to permanent/long term outcome 12 to 18 months
The changes will improve outcomes for children while reducing demand across services by the end of 2017-18, the council said.
Paul Marshall, Director of Children’s Services at Manchester council, said: “Now there is a stable and permanent leadership team in place, the timing is right to invest this additional money directly in social work staff over the next five years as part of our longer term strategy to reduce demand and sustain the improvements already made – so that services for children in the city are as effective and efficient as they need to be.
“A reduction in the number of caseloads each social worker has will mean that in the future outstanding social work practice will become the norm and not the exception – and that is exactly what we all want to achieve.
“More social workers, managing smaller caseloads, and working to the highest possible social work standards.”
Ofsted has warned councils they need to tackle social worker caseloads that are “too high”, after identifying it as a common problem in poorly performing authorities.
The watchdog said too many social workers were “pressing on in conditions that are unacceptable” as its annual social care report revealed concerns over caseload levels have been found at 14 councils inspected since January.