Esther and Lauren are two out of over 50 social workers in West Sussex County Council’s children’s and adults’ services that are harnessing the benefits of flexible working through the local authority’s casual bank service.
Officially launched at Community Care Live in October 2018, the in-house service for children’s and adults’ social care allows experienced social workers to re-enter the sector at their own pace after taking a career break. It also gives practicing social workers the option to work more flexibly around their home lives and could appeal to recently retired social workers that want to work the odd day.
“Local authorities can end up losing good social workers because of burnout and stress but the casual bank allows those workers to keep their toe in the profession, keep their registration active without feeling they are working overtime,” says Esther, who, after 12 years as a qualified social worker, left the profession full-time in 2016 and became a locum for three years before taking up the casual bank in May 2019. “It’s a good way for authorities to attract experienced staff back into the profession.”
Casual bank really appealed to me because I could work my hours around childcare and have the flexibility to do extra hours during weekend, term-time and in the holidays.
For Lauren, her journey was similar. She has been a qualified social worker for 11 years and took a career break and spent time living in New Zealand. “I needed to earn money quickly after coming back from New Zealand so initially, I worked as a locum at another local authority before seeing West Sussex’s casual bank service,” says Lauren, who started the casual bank in the summer. “The service means that unlike locum work, you are employed by the council and don’t have to do your own tax returns.”
Casual bank workers are paid on an hourly rate up to £22.55/hour and get to tailor the work around their availability.
“Casual bank really appealed to me because I could work my hours around childcare and have the flexibility to do extra hours during weekend, term-time and in the holidays,” says Lauren.
Freedom and flexibility
The casual bank process means that social workers are offered a wide range of projects which they can choose from in areas including child protection plans, viability assessments, special guardianship order assessments for children’s services or Mental Capacity Act assessments and safeguarding enquiries within adults’ services. These assignments are structured so that they can be completed within a few weeks but should not take longer than three months. “If the assignment is due to take longer, the social worker has the choice to ask for the project to be delegated to another casual bank social worker,” says Chloe Chatfield, casual bank co-ordinator at West Sussex. “Casual bank workers have the freedom and flexibility to choose the work they want to complete. It’s not a longer-term agency placement. This flexibility enables them to deepen their knowledge across different areas or to have a taste of what working at West Sussex County Council is like.”
“I never take on projects that I do not believe I can finish and being a senior social worker and having extensive experience in the role allows me to judge that,” says Esther. “I have a track record on what I can deliver and feel comfortable enough to say no to if I do not want to take on the work.”
This is a plus for Lauren too because it means she gets to focus on assignments she is interested in and can deepen her knowledge of practice.
“When you are a locum, you are expected to hit the ground sprinting,” she says. “You are expected to pick up all aspects of the job that a permanent social worker has to do. In my opinion, being casual bank gives me that space to focus solely on the project I am dealing with and that means that I can produce a higher quality assessment,” she says.
*Having experienced working alongside permanent social workers in various teams at West Sussex and the dedicated support, improvement plan and benefits offered, Esther and Lauren are planning on joining the council on a permanent basis.
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