“The benefits are real, they are not just nice to have. They make a difference to delivery.”
Paul Angeli, assistant director for children’s services at the London Borough of Merton, said he encouraged all councils to get a baseline understanding of their social worker retention risk because it was at the heart of operating a good social work service.
He was speaking to senior social work leaders at Community Care Live this week, a year after Merton piloted the social worker retention risk tool which has been developed by Community Care and the University of the West of England.
The retention risk tool provides a red, amber, green diagnostic on 20 key areas which our exclusive literature review of UK and international research has identified as the most important for keeping social workers happy and thriving in their work. Merton was the first to pilot the tool.
Vacancies down to 4%
Angeli told the audience: “I can say with some confidence the majority of children who are looked after in Merton long-term have not had a change of social worker in the last 12 months. We did our annual survey of those children and they reported very favourably on their experiences and particularly the fact they’d been able to keep their social worker.”
He said Merton had also gone from having a typical outer London turnover rate of 25% to now needing to recruit just five more social workers.
“It’s helped us in terms of our performance; it’s helped us in terms of our budget, because our agency spend is the lowest it’s ever been, and it’s helped in the delivery of quality. I would encourage everyone to do an exercise around retention of this kind to get a baseline and engage with staff about it.
“But when you do it, be prepared as the senior management team to take the blow. There were things in our results that we didn’t know but I’m glad we found out about it because it gave us the opportunity to do something about it.”
Direction of travel
Sam Clayton, principal social worker at Lincolnshire County Council’s children’s services, said although the results had not provided any real surprises it had been a valuable opportunity to sense check the direction of travel and ensure they were focused on the most important areas.
“From our perspective retention for social work staff has historically been an area that we’ve looked at less. But this is a national issue and there’s work that needs to be done on understanding what keeps people in the profession and how you can sustain people in a role. It has to combine with the focus on recruitment and succession planning so you are properly future proofing the workforce.”
Listen to Sam Clayton’s full interview
Clare Threapleton, HR consultant for the council, said Lincolnshire had used the results to reconfirm and tweak the messages and branding they were using in their extensive recruitment campaign.
This had helped them move from a position where they had 60 social work vacancies last year to now having less than 15 at any one time.
“We’ve put £1 million back into the reserves of the council from children’s social care by reducing agency spend. Our sickness and absence rates are the lowest they’ve ever been because our social workers are not experiencing boom or bust any more. Stabilising teams allows them to do different things and feel differently about what they can do and offer people.
“Retention is the cheapest form of recruitment.”
Angeli agreed and said high turnover was corrosive in social work teams: “You are effectively throwing your training budget down the drain and it is very difficult to build a workforce aligned with your organisational goals because they are not there long enough to even understand it, or they are spending all their time trying to induct a new person.
“If you have a stable management team, then your staff stay and you can start building a culture. That gets you into a virtuous cycle that allows better and longer-term social work which means you can start to keep more children with their families and take less into care.”
Clayton said her hope was that she could replace the annual social work healthcheck survey with the retention risk tool because it asked many of the same questions. She felt social workers had tended to respond more honestly to Community Care and the tool provided far more detail which was helpful in planning.
“It means I won’t have to survey my staff so often, the results are a good visual image that allow you to see the full range of issues and it helps us plan for the future.”
If you would like to know more about Community Care’s social worker retention risk tool please email CommCareRecruitment@markallengroup.com or call 0203 915 9474