The variation in the number of cases social workers are being asked to hold in different children’s services is “too wide”, Ofsted has warned.
Eleanor Schooling, the regulator’s national director of social care, said it was not right that caseloads ranged from 7 to 34 in different authorities. She said councils that had improved social care performance had often made cutting caseloads a “key priority”.
Schooling urged employers to create working environments that left social workers feeling supported and valued. She said local authority leaders had “a huge role” to play in ensuring that IT systems and HR processes enabled “high quality social work”, rather than getting in the way of it.
Writing in her latest commentary on social care, Schooling said: “As in any professional career, without creative practice and continual learning, practitioners can become overwhelmed or lose motivation.”
Ofsted had seen councils where the “building blocks” were in place to promote a culture of learning and this had boosted social worker retention, she said.
Common features among this group were good development opportunities on offer for newly qualified and experienced staff, high quality supervision and protected caseloads. Some of the councils had also arranged for staff to be members of academic and research organisations, she added.
Schooling said some councils had also boosted support for social workers by building links with other agencies such as housing, probation and charities to make support easier to access. For complex family court work, some authorities had also drafted in specialist support to help social workers “get it right for children”.
“I think it is fair to say that social work is demanding of individuals: it requires emotional strength and resilience, decisiveness, and a commitment to continual learning,” said Schooling.
“Social workers must be thoroughly supported in their place of work so that they can make use of these qualities.
“Senior management must work together and challenge one another effectively to ensure that key priorities are aligned with the needs of practice on the grounds.
“Social workers must be both challenged and supported in their supervision by a manager who shares the burden of risk that they face on a daily basis, and who is committed to their personal and professional development. Resources must be managed well to keep caseloads low and work satisfaction high.
“In places where they are getting these things right, we see high retention of good social workers who work together to deliver high quality services to children. In the best local authorities, we see social workers innovate and develop new ways of working that progress the profession and improve outcomes for children and families.”