A council struggling with social work caseloads, retention and salaries will develop a new model for its children’s service to make it financially secure.
A report submitted to Bristol council from the acting executive director of care and safeguarding said elements of its current service were financially unsustainable, and as a result the council has agreed to invest £1.8 million to help deliver “a system-wide programme of transformational change” by 2019/20.
The strategy includes a plan to reduce the number of children in care by 165 over five years, as the cost of care and supporting special guardianship orders is “unsustainable”.
The service’s average caseload of 25 meant social workers’ ability to undertake meaningful work was being limited, the report said.
“As a result of increased demand and caseloads, we struggle to hold onto experienced and skilled social workers in frontline posts. Our staff turnover rate is 15.8% against a target of 10%. In the South area, it is as high as 22%; with a risk that high turnover will continue to rise in fostering and adoption and care leavers teams.”
‘Taking skills elsewhere’
Frontline teams were said to be “heavily reliant” on inexperienced social workers. Half remain in post for only two years and a “significant percentage” of newly qualified social workers trained and developed in the council “take their skills and training elsewhere”.
“Exit interviews indicate there are two significant issues in relation to retention that must be attended to: caseloads and workload, and the impact on work life balance, and house price rises in Bristol (17% in 16/17) impairing their ability to purchase homes locally,” the report said.
It added that a strategy to attract and retain social workers was being implemented, and the council was re-writing policies to address key workforce issues.
The new structure would focus on the “root causes” of demand, improve partnership responses to children and families in need of support and “enable us to deliver our vision”.
Changes already being implemented include establishing an edge of care/custody team to work with children, young people and families at risk of family breakdown and an exit from care team.
The redesign would also increase the focus on early help, supporting families sooner and reducing caseloads through taking less children into care.