Number of councils reporting high social worker absences due to Covid rises sharply

DfE report finds 6% of councils reported that a tenth of social workers were off work due to Covid-19 last month, up from a low of 1% in December, but half of peak absence levels in May 2020

Illustration depicting a phone with a sick day concept.
Picture: Creative Soul/Fotolia

Story updated 11 February 2021

The proportion of councils reporting high numbers of children’s social workers not working due to Covid-19 rose last month following a sustained fall since November, a Department for Education (DfE) survey has found.

Six per cent of local authorities said more than 10% of social workers were not working due to the pandemic from 11-13 January, up by five percentage points from the level in December, the latest results from the DfE’s ongoing research into the impact caused by Covid-19 on children’s services has shown.

The sharp rise, revealed in the wave 17 results from the department’s vulnerable children and young people survey, follows a decline from 4% of local authorities having more than 10% of their social workers off due to Covid in October and November. However, the current figure is half the 13% reached in May 2020, at the height of the first lockdown.

DfE data on staff absences from local authorities under Covid-19

Source: DfE Vulnerable Children
and Young People Survey (Feb 2021)

The proportion of councils reporting more than 10% of residential care staff off work due to Covid also increased sharply in the latest wave of the DfE data, from 11% in December to 19% in January.

This came after a steady decrease from November when 22% of councils reported over 10% of residential care staff off work due to Covid.

Councils adapting but anticipating referral spike

In response to the latest figures, Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Jenny Coles said councils had adapted to the challenge of staff sickness and self-isolation during Covid

“Although the latest survey findings show that the number of social workers being unable to work due to coronavirus has slightly increased, local authorities have adapted, for example by redeploying their existing staff to fill gaps because those staff are already familiar with local arrangements and systems.

“The whole workforce has continued to work incredibly hard throughout the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns but we anticipate that our peak in referrals to children’s services is yet to come. When it does this will put added pressure on a workforce that was already under strain pre-Covid-19.”

The latest wave of the DfE figures showed the number of referrals from 28 December 2020 to 3 January 2021 was 7% higher than the 2016-19 average of the same week. This is the only the fourth week during which referrals have been higher during the pandemic than in previous years, however the report said that the finding should be treated with caution because of the timing of Christmas holidays varying from week to week.

The total number of referrals throughout all 17 waves of the data was 176,120, which is 9% lower than an average of the same weeks during 2016-19.

2 Responses to Number of councils reporting high social worker absences due to Covid rises sharply

  1. Carol February 10, 2021 at 6:59 pm #

    Yet another confirmation of our real experiences which will wither away without any response like all others. How many times will we have to show we are exhausted, vulnerable, scared, unsupported?

    • Anonymous February 19, 2021 at 2:27 pm #

      Well said Carol.