Hiring personal assistants for social workers cuts their stress levels, gives them more time for direct work with families and saves services money, an evaluation of a pilot scheme has found.
Hampshire and Isle of Wight children’s services trialled hiring one “highly skilled administrator”, or PA, for every three social workers working on child in need or child protection cases.
The PAs scheduled the social workers’ visits and meetings, carried out admin tasks, responded to emails and telephone calls, wrote up aspects of assessments and helped request information from other agencies.
An evaluation of the project by researchers at Oxford Brookes University found hiring the PAs cut the proportion of a social worker’s day spent on admin from 36% to 14%. The time social workers spent with families increased from 34% to 58%.
‘Significant’ reduction in sickness
Eighty per cent of social workers with PAs said they had “quite a lot or very much time” to spend with families, compared to just 10% of those without PAs. Teams with personal assistants also reported a “significant” short-term reduction in staff sickness rates and improvements in social worker stress levels, researchers found.
Employing PAs cost an average of £4,408 per social worker, but saved around £9,000 per social worker by reducing the time practitioners spent on non-direct work.
“These savings are likely to be further enhanced over time through ongoing low rates of staff sickness rates and improved social worker retention,” the evaluation said.
“In the particular context of teams finding it difficult to recruit experienced social workers, the PA model appears to offer a highly cost-effective approach,” it added.
The PA trial was part of a suite of social care reforms in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to be funded by the Department for Education’s Innovation Programme.
How the other Hampshire and Isle of Wight pilots fared
Family intervention teams:
What is it? Small teams of three workers experienced in either domestic abuse, adult mental health or substance misuse worked closely with some child in need teams to benefit families showing at least one of the toxic trio issues.
What did the evaluation find? There were “significant difficulties” recruiting and retaining the staff to fill a family intervention team. This made the introduction – and evaluation – of the model extremely difficult to achieve. However, in areas where the teams were set up and working with families, it showed improved levels of initial engagement of families showing toxic trio issues. It increased from 29% to 70% in Hampshire and 87% in Isle of Wight during the evaluation period.
A network of volunteers:
What is it? A bid to establish volunteers able to work effectively with families in need to help them change and improve outcomes, as well as support children excluded from school, going missing and mentor young people on the edge of care.
What did the evaluation find? In cases where volunteers engaged positively with an Isle of Wight family, 50% had benefited and made clear progress “attributed by the social worker to the volunteer’s involvement”.
Edge of care pilot:
What is it? It would provide bespoke support packages to young people aged 14-18 on the edge of care to help them remain safely living at home.
What did the evaluation find? 65% of young people offered an edge of care plan engaged well with it. 11% of the cohort who started the edge of care programme during the evaluation period entered care. Across Hampshire, there was a 50% rise in this age group entering care. This was lower than the overall increase during the same period (80%), but the evaluation said the increase in unaccompanied minors was a large factor in this increase.
Child sexual exploitation pilot
What is it? A Hampshire-wide team of different professionals worked to help identify and improve support for young people at risk of sexual exploitation.
What did the evaluation find? Social workers across the county appreciated the team’s responsiveness and specialist advice they could offer. Families and young people also appreciated the “warm, non-judgemental approach” of the workers.
Social worker surgery pilot
What is it? An attempt to reduce inappropriate referrals into children’s social care by delivering training for schools on relevant referral processes and thresholds.
What did the evaluation find? No discernible reduction in referrals as the pilot was too small scale and early in implementation to likely have an impact on overall referrals received by social care.