Average children’s social worker caseload revealed by government

This is the third year the government has estimated the average caseload for children's social workers

Photo: mnirat/Fotolia

The average number of cases held by a children’s social worker is 17.4, government statistics have estimated.

This suggests the number of caseloads held by social workers has fallen marginally since last year’s figures, which said the average was 17.8, although the government has once again urged caution when interpreting caseload figures.

The figure is calculated by dividing the total number of cases held by full-time equivalent social workers at September 30 2018 by the number of full-time equivalent social workers that hold one or more cases.

The statistics said the number of cases held was 327,420, with 18,790 social workers and agency workers holding the cases. A case is defined as a child allocated to a social worker – therefore a family of three siblings would be three individual cases – and a carer or carers allocated to a social worker for the purposes of fostering or adoption.

The government’s average is quite different from the number reported by social workers in a Community Care survey last year, which found the median average for a children’s social worker was 25.


The Department for Education urged caution when interpreting the figures, as it said the number of cases held was “significantly smaller” than the number of children in need – 404,710 – as of 31 March 2018.

“This could be due to a number of factors including different count dates, different interpretations of the guidance around what constitutes a case, or, as this is a new data item, data quality issues.

“As a result caution should be used when interpreting these figures,” the report said.

The caseload measure varied from as low as 12 in Kingston and Richmond, to 26.8 for North East Lincolnshire.

“Some of this variation may be explained by different local practices in case management,” the report said.

“Collecting individual level data for the past two years allows us to calculate an average caseload measure. Local authorities have reported difficulties with linking the number of cases to the social worker holding those cases, therefore care should be taken interpreting caseload figures,” it said.

More social workers

Elsewhere, the statistics found the turnover rate for children’s social workers across England rose from 15% to 16% in the year with 5,150 social workers leaving their job at the time during the year ending September 30 2018.

The vacancy rate remained similar to the previous year, and overall the profession saw a 3% growth in the number of social workers working in the profession, both in terms of headcount and full-time equivalent workers.

The children’s minister, Nadhim Zahawi, highlighted the finding that there has never been more full-time equivalent social workers working in children’s services as there are today.

Zahawi said: “Children’s social care is only as good as the people who deliver it, and despite the competitive jobs market and low levels of unemployment, social work continues to be an attractive career option.

“There have never been more children and families social workers in post since we began collecting this important workforce data, which means there are more dedicated people on the frontline to offer much needed support to some of most vulnerable children and families in the country.”

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10 Responses to Average children’s social worker caseload revealed by government

  1. Karen Duncan February 28, 2019 at 1:21 pm #

    Try 35 cases for my local authority-dont know many authorities below 25

  2. Samuel Culpar February 28, 2019 at 1:25 pm #

    Zahawi said: “Children’s social care is only as good as the people who deliver it, and despite the competitive jobs market and low levels of unemployment, social work continues to be an attractive career option.

    Typical…. what is omitted here is no recognition that “Children’s Social Care is only as good as the decimation of investment and the removal of funding for frontline community resources and early intervention that has occurred under the Tory Party and the Liberal demon crats who propped them up”

  3. Erin February 28, 2019 at 9:20 pm #

    I never had a caseload below 35 in 11 years. I believe the figures in the article have been massaged to look good for local authorities and attract applicants for jobs. People could manage if caseloads were within the late teens and capped. In reality that will never happen. Large complex caseloads and unsupportive managers have contributed to many social workers losing hope, and leaving the profession in order to move onto less stressful employment.

  4. Minnie Watson February 28, 2019 at 10:39 pm #

    As with the previous figures released by the government, they are grossly underestimated! A deliberate attempt to mask the ever growing crisis in Children’s services. Caseloads in my authority are on average 25+ and regularly exceed 30.

  5. Bionic Woman March 1, 2019 at 3:03 am #

    Totally agree, there are lies, damned lies and then statistics! The figures quoted in this article are totally misleading and I strongly question the motives. I would have been dreaming to have 17-18 children. Try 20 FAMILIES and this would be more like the average. Then try weighting the caseload in relation to S47 investigations, proceedings, accommodating children, which all adds a huge amount of paperwork, reviews, conferences, meetings, court hearings…..the list goes on and on and on

  6. J Cooper March 1, 2019 at 7:19 am #

    What about caseload numbers for adult social workers ? Is it the government that aren’t interested in these or Community Care as there is no mention of these ?

    • RustyShackleford March 1, 2019 at 9:26 am #

      Oh I think there are. But I know that there is a statutory return from Childrens which is collated and released a tthis time. So its not a seperate peice of research purely for an article.

      If there is a similar return for Adults I’d expect a similar rush of articles when that is collated and released.

  7. Disillusioned March 1, 2019 at 11:57 am #

    Number is an indicator of workload pressure but it is important to consider other factors which far outweighed the number issue.
    I have worked in a local authority with over 25 cases but due to the work environment where the manager understood the workload, provided effective support, guidance and leadership, managing over 25 cases, though challenging was doable.
    However, in another local authority where the workload was 17-19, due to incompetent, management whose interest was to tick their box, cover themselves, working was absolutely tedious. In such a work culture, no meaningful support is there and in such a hostile and critical environment, managing a small case of 5 would become impossible.
    I am of the opinion that work culture and management approach are far more important to enable effective and desirable outcome for the families and workers.

  8. No trust anon March 1, 2019 at 12:44 pm #

    Zahawi said: “Children’s social care is only as good as the people who deliver it… ABSOLUTELY A CHEEK!!!
    Funding is being cut and reductions in staffing are occurring.
    No pay rise in years… a thankless job… AND we don’t strike like the bin men at the drop of a hat…GOVERNMENT…Zahawi WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT!!!!

  9. Jaded March 4, 2019 at 9:31 am #

    We are definitely over that figure even part-time staff are closer, if not over, 20. It doesn’t help when senior management include themselves in the figures when they don’t case hold. Massaging the stats to look better.