Permanent contract, agency work: the plan to shake up social work recruitment

A new initiative to help improve struggling authorities would see a community interest company hire permanent social workers and second them out

The word 'recruit' spelt out
Photo: patpitchaya/Fotolia

As part of its role as a partner in practice, improvement partner and independent consultancy, Achieving for Children (AfC) has spent a lot of time working with struggling authorities.

A common problem is that by the time improvement partners come into these councils, many social workers have left, to be replaced by agency staff, if they are replaced at all.

AfC are developing ‘AfC Prime’, an initiative which will see permanently employed social workers seconded out to these authorities, so improvement partners and the councils themselves know they have a full workforce they can rely on. The project is supported by additional funding from the government’s Partners in Practice scheme.

Director of AfC Prime Andrew Thorne says the intention is that you can be based anywhere and still be employed by AfC.

“Where it came from originally was the idea that it’s ok to go in with improvement plans, talk to directors and assistant directors about recruitment plans, but if you haven’t got the social workers on the ground to implement the improvement plan you’re a bit stuck.

“The intention is to go in with an improvement plan and the social workers and managers to help implement that plan.”

Guaranteed workforce

For the local authority, this means a guaranteed workforce for a period relevant to their improvement journey and as they recruit for permanent staff, at no more cost than recruiting agency social workers. Meanwhile the social workers would get a permanent contract and the relevant benefits, such as access to AfC’s training, while also getting the agency lifestyle of being able to go to different places for different periods of time.

Once they complete their secondments they can return to one of AfC’s hub authorities to help support teams there.

AfC can differentiate itself from a recruitment agency in the support it can offer, Thorne explains. “I’m quite used to placing agency staff in failing authorities, as an ex-social worker I’m also quite used to saying, ‘If you have problems, phone me up and let me know what’s going on’.

“What AfC Prime will be doing is formalising that. We have formal supervision within AfC still, they will be properly supported, and changes that need to be driven through can be done with the directors of AfC as well.”

The right calibre of social workers

Thorne says the way of mitigating challenges posed by this model – such as an increased risk of burnout from sending social workers to high-pressure working environments – is through support but also recruitment.

“I think it is about getting the right calibre of social workers. Those with strong values already, they are not going to be knocked off course by people being negative around them.”

He adds: “If you’re feeling under stress you can call someone, being constantly able to plug into that, if you’re an experienced social worker you take support where you can get it. What we do is we offer that continuous support. Sometimes you don’t need to speak to someone for two or three weeks, or sometimes you can speak to someone three times a day, and that’s what we will guarantee, I think that’s a really important point.”

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6 Responses to Permanent contract, agency work: the plan to shake up social work recruitment

  1. Jane doe May 17, 2018 at 10:37 pm #

    Hmmm so all the pressure of helping turn around a service with none of the benefits of additional pay associated with locum/contract role….

  2. Lily barber May 20, 2018 at 1:09 pm #

    Y thoughts too, a lot of agency SW do the job for the flexibility, but also for the higher rate of pay

  3. Dominic. May 20, 2018 at 8:18 pm #

    It’s stinks of the first wave of ‘Privatisation’ of children’s statutory social work services. Making money out of child protection, and child abuse, falls nothing sort of disgusting commercialised behaviour (in my humble opinion). ? Maybe if poor working conditions were addressed. Poor pay. Bullying management cultures etc. You know, the ‘real reasons’ staff retention is an issue. Then maybe we wouldn’t need to resort to such commercialised measures to staff such services.

  4. Galloper May 23, 2018 at 10:55 pm #

    I kind of don’t like the idea that you would be constantly working in a pressurised environment as is often the case in ‘failure clear ups’….. you might go somewhere as agency but like it and want to stay longer if permitted. This model suggests that you would be moved around at AfC’s back and call…….for who’s satisfaction in the and????

  5. Mary K May 24, 2018 at 7:32 am #

    Interesting how one of the recruiters is an ‘ex-social worker’, and no longer in the field themselves, but seems perfectly happy to send social workers to horrendous and stressful placements, with phone support but no extra pay or better conditions. I wonder how many bucks this agency is making off the real commodity, us SOCIAL WORKERS. The real answer is for the government to step in and put all recruitment agencies out of business, by increasing all social workers pay, and only offer permanent or short contracts directly by the authority. Use the rest to improve the service. I have been a CP Agency SW for 15 years and am sick of the work stress, lack of support, and recruitment agencies sucking up all our money.

  6. A Man Called Horse May 24, 2018 at 10:03 am #

    The real problem is that the Government do not want to pay Social Workers professional salaries, they want everything on the cheap including Social Workers. Real term pay has been cut by more than 17% since Austerity started. We see Nurses using food banks, Teachers living in rooms because pay is so poor they cannot afford decent accommodation. The Tories want to increase pressure on Social Workers but pay them less. Only solution to this problem is not voting for a Government that clearly hates Social Workers and offers them nothing.