End ‘staggering misuse’ of children’s social workers to allow more direct work, says care review

Review’s case for change says practitioners are social care’s ‘greatest asset’ but lack the ‘freedom, responsibility and time’ they need to work well with families due to bureaucracy

Stack of documents and woman working with laptop at table in office, closeup
Photo: New Africa/Adobe Stock

By Robert Preston and Mithran Samuel

Social workers are children’s social care “greatest asset”, but they are being “staggeringly misused” because of the lack of time they have for direct work and career pathways that take too many away from frontline practice.

That was a key conclusion from the government-commissioned children’s social care review’s ‘case for change’, published today, its early thinking on how the system should be reformed, just over three months into its work.

This found that, 10 years after Eileen Munro’s government-commissioned review of child protection called for a shift from an ‘over-bureaucratised’ system to one focused on children, too little had changed.

The review, led by former Frontline chief executive Josh MacAlister, said that social work was “at its best when staff have the freedom, responsibility and time to tailor their practice to the needs of the children and families they are working with”.

However, the bureaucratic, process-driven nature of children’s social care meant that those in frontline practice spent less than one third of their time with families, according to research for the Department for Education (DfE) published last year.

The review also took aim at social work’s career structure, which it said saw too many practitioners deployed away from the front line in management and non-caseholding roles, citing DfE workforce figures.

Too many social workers in management

“If we consider that the greatest value of social work is in the interaction between social workers and children and families, then it should be an ongoing source of alarm that 1 in 3 of all social workers in children’s services do not work directly with children or families,” said the report.

In an echo of the Blueprint for Children’s Social Care MacAlister co-authored in 2019, which called for the creation of ‘self-managing’ social work teams in order to increase direct work time, the report said that social work relied on “too many professional observers who are not directly involved in practice”.

It said that, as well as more experienced practitioners being enabled to stay at the front line, action was needed to tackle “disempowering and complicated processes to make decisions and allocate resources”.

“At a time of financial pressures and high workloads for frontline staff, this inefficient use of time and people does not support the most expert practitioners to make the difference for children and families that they joined the profession to deliver,” it said.

Burnout and knowledge gaps

The report added that the current system, along with high workloads, was also driving too many social workers to burn out, resulting in significant turnover rates – leading children to experience frequent changes of social worker – and too little experience at the front line.

“High stress levels are in part a symptom of a system that requires social workers to spend too much of their working time doing paperwork, with insufficient time left to spend with children and families,” it said.

And the review warned that the relatively high proportion of agency workers in children’s care, around 15%, increased costs and that a long-term reliance on them “inevitably has a negative impact on children and families”.

The review also highlighted critical skills and knowledge gaps in social work, citing findings from the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel about poor risk assessment and decision making in serious cases, and from a Ministry of Justice-commissioned review into private law practice that found deficits in domestic abuse competence.

Investigative focus at expense of support

The review’s analysis on the state of social work was part of a wider critique of a system that provided insufficient support to families and was too focused on assessment and investigation. This trend has deepened over the past decade, with a significant shift in the proportion of local authority spending from non-statutory early help services to statutory provision, and rising numbers of children on child protection plans and in care.

This was despite the fact that those subject to children’s social care interventions were typically “parenting in conditions of adversity, rather than because they have caused or are likely to cause significant harm to their children”.

The report said the current approach, as well as not supporting families, was ineffective, pointing to a threefold increase in the past decade in child protection investigations that led to no further action.

“The review has consistently heard from parents and families who came to social care looking for support, but their experience of being assessed added stress to an already difficult situation without meaningful support being offered,” it said.

It added that children’s social care needed to take greater account of deprivation as a “contributory causal factor in child abuse and neglect”, with services more focused on tackling poverty and inequality, including in relation to race and ethnicity.

Care system failings

While concluding that more was required to keep children safely out of care, it said the care system was failing to prioritise and create loving relationships for the children who needed it.

Care experienced adults told the review that they faced cliff-edges in support, at 18, 21 and 25, resulting in broken relationships, a lack of protection from harms outside the home, poor advice as they entered adulthood and too many professionals involved in their care.

Echoing many previous reports, it said many of the care system’s problems were rooted in insufficient supply of high-quality placements.

“Underpinning many of the reasons the care system as it is currently designed breaks relationships, is the immediate pressure of there not being enough of the right homes in the right places,” it said.

It said, in a national market for independent fostering and residential care placements, providers were increasingly able to set the terms of engagement with local authority commissioners, driving up prices and leaving children in unsuitable placements, far from home.

In an echo of a speech MacAlister gave last week to the Independent Children’s Homes Association’s annual conference, in which he said profits were too high in that sector, the report said: “The review is concerned about the cost, profit, and financial health of providers and the impact of the current system on children. We want a pragmatic re-think given the urgent problems, the complexity of the issues and the fragility of the current system.”

It said it would work with the Competition and Markets Authority, which is carrying out a review of the children’s social care market, to identify solutions, though said there was “active debate in the sector about whether incremental improvement of commissioning or radical rethinking of the care marketplace is needed to ensure that children receive the care that they need”.

Investment required

The Department for Education’s contract with MacAlister, published earlier this year, said that he should not “assume any additional expenditure” from the Treasury in his recommendations, with any additional costs needing to be offset by savings elsewhere in government over time.

But the case for change said that “there is no situation in the current system where we will not need to spend more” adding: “The choice is whether this investment is spent on reform which achieves long term sustainability and better outcomes, or propping up an increasingly expensive and inadequate existing system.

“We don’t do enough to understand the collective costs of poor outcomes for children in contact with social care when we think about the case for investment.”

It said, in the review’s next phase, it would examine “what is needed, including additional investment, to deliver improvements to the system and the potential longer term savings this could make both through better outcomes for children and shift in demand away from the acute crisis intervention”.

‘Start of the conversation’

The case for change is based on conversations with over 700 people with lived experience of children’s social care, more than 300 working in the system, a call for advice on what the review should focus on – which received over 900 responses – and a call for evidence, which received more than 200 submissions.

It is also informed by the review’s experts by experience board – which includes people with lived experience – and its design and evidence groups, which comprise professionals, managers and academics advising the review on the evidence for change and how it can be implemented.

In a foreword to the report, MacAlister said: “This is just the start of a conversation. Finding the positive, speedy and lasting solutions is the hard work that begins following the publication of this paper. This report poses a number of questions that we need to discuss and answer together. Whether you are someone with lived experience of children’s social care, someone who works with children and families or a member of the public, we need you in this conversation.”

‘Review must understand root causes’

In its response, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Charlotte Ramsden said the report highlighted concerns the ADCS had been raising with government for years, including the value of early help, the impact of poverty on families and the risks caused by the marketisation of services.

She said: “There are fundamental issues raised within this report, such as the contributory causal relationship between income and state intervention, along with the racial disparities that exist. The review must therefore seek to understand not only the symptoms, but the root causes and solutions, which may be beyond the gift of children’s services, such as welfare and benefit policies. We all have an important part to play, not least central government.”

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), said the review was right to highlight how children’s social care was increasingly focused on investigating serious cases and putting children into care, rather than preventative measures.

“This isn’t simply the result of a more risk-averse system. It is inescapably linked to the devastating erosion of central government funding for children’s services over the past decade,” she said.

“There is also an important acknowledgement that children from poorer backgrounds, disabled children, and those from black and ethnic minority communities are often hardest hit by the cuts in early intervention.

‘Need to tackle poverty and discrimination’

“NCB fully supports the review’s call for a more effective and compassionate response to families facing conditions of adversity. We cannot avoid tackling thorny issues like poverty and discrimination if we are going to reduce the number of children coming into care, and avoid the spiralling costs of child protection.”

Teresa Heritage, vice-chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, agreed with the report’s calls for government departments to work better together, reforms to the placements market and more investment.

“We also urge the review to consider the context in which services for children and families are delivered. Inspection, media and government pressure can alter practice and drive risk aversion, while the impact of national policy must not be underestimated,” she said.

In its response, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) England said the review “raises many fundamental issues of the environment social workers operate in, as well as social work practice itself”.

However, it said its focus on social work had come at the expense of “a holistic national approach to looking after children, one that includes welfare, benefit policies, employment opportunities and housing solutions”.

In relation to the review’s focus on child protection investigations, it added: “While scrutiny of social worker practice is welcome, the review needs to avoid re-iterating a government ‘blame culture’ and negative narratives around a workforce that has tirelessly worked pre and during the pandemic to deliver support, compassion, kindness to children and families hand in hand with undertaking assessments and safeguarding investigations in challenging circumstances.

‘Migrant children ignored’

Carol Homden, chief executive of Coram, welcomed the review’s focus on preventative measures but said it ignored migrant children.

“It is disappointing that there is limited focus on the timescale and direct support needs of children themselves, including through therapeutic and respite services, advocacy and legal advice as they navigate challenging family circumstances and the special educational needs they can face,” she said.

“The lack of attention on migrant children is a key omission and we will work with the review team to address this in the coming weeks and months.

“Money is of course no silver bullet, but it is important to see strong acknowledgement of the challenging conditions which children’s social care operates given the substantial loss of preventative services and support such as drugs or alcohol treatment during a decade of austerity.”

‘Lets government off the hook’

Campaign group the Care Review Watch Alliance (CRWA) called the report “unbalanced” and said it failed to address the effect of recent government policy on the care system.

“Whilst the review does identify some of the key issues that blight the lives of children and families such as poverty and social inequality, it conveniently apportions the blame on local authorities and social workers,” it said in a statement.

“This well and truly lets the government off the hook when we have seen child poverty rates increase exponentially since the introduction of austerity measures a decade ago through punitive welfare reform legislation leading to cuts in benefits and a vicious circle for some families as the landscape of vital provision and support has shrunk leaving many to fall through the gaps that have opened up.”

More from Community Care

40 Responses to End ‘staggering misuse’ of children’s social workers to allow more direct work, says care review

  1. BB June 17, 2021 at 9:13 pm #

    And no response from SWE or BASW? Also some of this is well known and explored, a sense of deja vu?

    • Mithran Samuel June 18, 2021 at 1:06 pm #

      We have added BASW’s response now, BB.

  2. Margaret Henry June 18, 2021 at 8:38 am #

    Far as I am concerned this is some of the same. Frontline social workers have been saying this for some 17 years that I am aware of. I wrote to the government a few years ago city the need for change. Mr McCallister’s report is simply repeating what frontline social workers have been saying for years. Funding to social care has been cut.

    The government have been aware of the issues for decades and have decided not to make the changes because social workers simply do not stand up for themselves as a profession resulting in internalised abuses. We need to learn from the young doctors and monetise ourselves and take the matter to the high court.

    Social workers are exposed to modern day slavery and often work 2/3xtimes the hours required by their contract. This is a crime. Until the professionals start taking themselves seriously no one else will.

    • Abdul June 18, 2021 at 2:24 pm #

      I could not agree more with you. I have been a frontline statutory children’s social worker for 23 years, and I am exiting the role, as it is no longer manageable, and there is no work / life/ family balance for it’s practitioners. I can no longer tolerate or accept being ‘exploited’ by my employer ((i.e. a children’s local authority) anymore, and I cannot justify the working for 3-4 hours each day, for which I receive no additional pay or time in lieu, at the cost and expense of my physical and emotional health, free time, and right to my own family life, which is denied me, by a Government who demands I care about other’s children and family, but not my own. The Government needs to take responsibility for the serious emotional, mental, and financial abuse from the organisation Social Worker’s must endure, this is not even mentioning the complex cases, verbal abuse, and risk of assault we run everyday, with zero support from management or Government.

      • Tom J June 21, 2021 at 9:39 am #

        Abdul- You experience is mirrored many times over.

    • Stuart Holmes June 18, 2021 at 2:26 pm #

      Quite agree Margaret. The names have changed but the core issues don’t go back 17 years, they go back to before I joined the profession in 1977.
      Social workers doing admin tasks that take them away from fact-to-face intervention with children and families in need and a career structure that burns them out and moves them ‘up’ to management or out of the profession altogether, along with all the expertise they developed….

    • julia June 18, 2021 at 2:36 pm #

      If I were to work to rule, I would not be able to complete all the day to day admin. let alone all the assessments and particular;y court statements, care plans and assessments. I worked it out that I am paid less than the minimum wage when the hours of over time are taken into account. Burn out is beckoning and an escape route being explored.

  3. Tee June 18, 2021 at 12:54 pm #

    Impressed with their findings. Well done. Hope this leads to some change!

  4. Chris June 18, 2021 at 2:50 pm #

    Deja vu indeed…

    I will keep a look out in the next 10 years for another report/review which tells us the same, which I will read as I continue to work after hours and weekends to keep up with the paperwork which previous reports promised to change/improve.

  5. Social Worker who has seen it all before June 18, 2021 at 2:54 pm #

    Nothing new. It’s what Social Workers have been saying for years and are still saying! Shame Government do not listen and think that commissioning another review is the answer.
    Not sure how much Josh is being paid, but I, and I imagine many other Social Workers, could have told them all this for free!!
    I see so many good Social Workers leaving because of overwork, stress, exhaustion, too much paperwork, blame culture. So sad, not only for Social Work but also the families we support.

  6. Ali June 18, 2021 at 2:58 pm #

    Ofsted have driven this punitive approach to families for years, with their deficit focused inspection model, and continual focus on risk rather than needs. We need to det back to S.17 being the core of the Children Act.The CSPR Panel is also focused on failure and does not balance its findings by also reviewing examples of effective practice.
    I am not sure more money is needed as so much is spent on care placements. It is a scandal that a profession that is committed to anti-discriminatory practice is removing so many children from the most deprived and disadvantaged families in the country.

  7. Social Worker who has seen it all before June 18, 2021 at 3:05 pm #

    And yet again we ask the question, where is our Chief Social Worker?? Answers on a postcard please….

    • Marc June 22, 2021 at 8:12 pm #

      She is not ours she is a government mandarin. She played a good game throughout her career to get where she is. Unfortunately modern social work is dominated by the political equivalents of Tony Blair.
      Reclaim Social Work was one of the great marketing scams of our time. Power to her bank account.
      If I recall she managed 3 years of non-frontline social work before greener pastures beckoned.

  8. Tom Murphy June 18, 2021 at 3:08 pm #

    Alas, what is actually new here to any front line Social Worker who understands the reality of day to day practice? The Government will not suddenly try some of what Munro suggested a long time ago? Or invest in prevention and early help? Yes, sounds pessimistic, expecting some warm words , but not much else?

  9. Terri June 18, 2021 at 3:20 pm #

    Surprise surprise this is nothing new we have known this for many years. Interesting that Mcalister not a social worker, but behind Teach First and Frontline is extoling the very model he came up with for the above. The real crux of the matter is not social workers its much wider and I find his comments simplistic and old news.

  10. Andy Lambie June 18, 2021 at 5:41 pm #

    Child protection requires a structural change. We all agree with that fact and this report drives that home.

    Here is how that could be achieved….

    Staying alive: A 21st century agenda for mental health, child protection and forensic services


    I am leading a practice group on the implementation of this paper here


    Please join the DMM community and get involved in making the change happen not only for child protection but also mental health services and the criminal justice system.

  11. Bryan Peake June 18, 2021 at 10:04 pm #

    This has been the environment for social work for more or less the last thirty years.Apart from the early years of the Blair governments,the response of most social work depts to families in difficulty, was governed by costs. Costs of training, recruiting and keeping experienced sw staff (in all environments) alongside a reluctance to intervene too early ,which then often led to the grasping of the usually disastrous residential care safety valve, alongside the lack of well resourced and relevant support systems for families clearly needing support have all played a part. The negative outcomes of such interventions have been known for decades. Once in the system families in difficulty were often given no practical help to raise their children, other than safeguarding conferences (poverty being a major issue in virtually every case I became involved with, but was rarely addressed), which were often focused more on protecting the agencies than the families they were supposed to assist.
    In my thirty five years of experience in both field and residential social work , the lack of genuine multi agency resources designed to target those youngsters and their families who were clearly struggling and coming to the notice of the agencies has been the blight that all sw’s have had to endure.
    Having been involved in setting up systems that were designed to provide such multui agency support , and then watching them wither and die as successive govt’s made savage cuts to LA resources , leaving little room for innovative Multi agency responses to develop, the current situation is simply the norm, and has been for years .Politically , these reviews make some noise, and are then quickly forgotten. As ever poverty stricken families in deprived communities and the social workers themselves will once again carry the can!

  12. Tom June 18, 2021 at 11:19 pm #

    Nowhere does it suggest social workers should be given a wage that represents their true value to society.

  13. Allan June 20, 2021 at 4:31 pm #

    Insecure jobs, insecure housing, populism, xenophobia, the mind numbing focus on academic achievement in our badly funded schools, cut after cut after cut to all welfare services for decades with a brief blip for some of the Blair years (not all of them). JM may say some stuff re bureaucracy and there is too much but until all of society is more equal and poor people are not held in contempt by those entitled few who rule us Social Work – a profession I have been in for 30 + years – will be trying to mop up and often doing a great job but it is your proverbial sticking plaster on a gaping wound.

  14. Helena Banks June 20, 2021 at 7:06 pm #

    I really don’t want to offend any social workers but I have an interview to train as a social worker in children’s services and everyone is telling me not to get into this area. So I’d find it helpful if someone could explain why you can’t just refuse to work more than your contracted hours? Is it that you’d be fired, or that everyone else in your team would have to pick up the slack? And if so, what stops the whole team leaving at 5.30?

    • Tee June 21, 2021 at 8:15 am #

      Hi Helena. Some visits have to be done after hours because that is the only time the parents and children are available. Often times you are responding to emergencies and you can’t leave until the child is safe. You often have to travel to other parts of the country to transport or see children. There are deadlines for very lengthy court reports which will add onto what you are already required to do. It is a juggling act to complete the written reports for your weekly visits along with any other documents you have to complete such as referrals, police reports, court reports, placement applications, meeting minutes etc. It is definitely not a 9 to 5 job although it is paid 9 to 5. Expect to do this for well over 20 children on your caseload.

    • Richard June 21, 2021 at 9:23 am #

      Your caseload, your colleagues and internalised guilt will stop you leaving at 5.30. That and the martyrs who start all conversation with “but what about the children” angst blame everyone but themselves at the sorry state of the job but never volunteer to cover for you, make the tea or have any space to take on a new case. Then there is your manager, supervisor, head of service, cabinet member and a skew of unaccountable advisors but that requires a more balanced individual than me to comment on as profanities won’t get past the moderator thankfully.

    • Abdul June 21, 2021 at 8:25 pm #

      Hi Helena,

      The problem is Statutory Social Work cannot be compared to other professions, as what makes the hours long besides the statutory responsibilities associated with keeping children safe, is all of the paperwork, visits, work meetings, telephone calls, follow-up, and report writing involved. It is quite common for a Statutory Social Worker to have at least 5 reports of around 30-40 pages each on the go at the same time (with multiple children), and the expectation from management is you will still need to keep up with all your other work, visiting 20+ children per fortnight, and attend all of the relevant meetings.

      This is not to mention if there is an unexpected emergency, which means all your plans and work scheduled for that day get scuppered (and are piling up, as they don’t go away), and you are expected to deal with it (even into the late and early hours of the following day), and then be expected to be at work the next day, all bright eyed and bushy tailed.

      It is also expected for a Social Worker to write a Court Statement (which are very long), for the next day if it is an emergency situation, and you can be up until 2 or 3am writing it, and then be in for work at 9am the next day.

      There are not enough hours in the ‘paid day’ to get all the work done, and therefore the majority of Social Worker’s I know – myself included – work an additional 20-25 hours per week, on top of our ‘contracted hours’ ,for which we receive no pay or time lieu. Essentially we am being paid for one job, but work two.

      If you are not able to keep up with your caseload and visits, this could be deemed by your employer, as you putting the children assigned to you ‘at risk’, and you could be referred to the regulator for a disciplinary hearing.

      The Government quite simply does not hire enough people to do the job, and employers also cannot hire more staff due to cuts to their budgets etc, or there not being enough staff to fill the vacancies. Also, there is no limit or cap on the flow of work coming in, and no matter how many cases come in, the Social Worker’s are expected to manage the amount, no matter how many vacancies, workers on sick leave, or lack of staffing. there is on a team.

      It can be hard for people who do not work in Social Work to understand how employers much less local authorities can get away with this illegal, immoral, and unethical behaviour, but they have been doing this for years, unchallenged. There is no will from Government to change the system, as why do they want to pay workers for ‘additional hours’ they get for free?

      I think you need to think long and hard, about why you want to be a Social Worker, and whether you would be willing to sacrifice your personal and family time, for the sake of your job? This will mean the majority of your evenings, and weekends, will be spent writing reports at home, and this will not be paid or recognised by anybody, but you.

      I have had people come to me and say they want to be a Social Worker, and I have ‘talked them out of it’, as it is no life for anybody, and your ‘whole life’ will be work. Having worked in this field for 23 years – and looking to leave – I can honestly say if I had my time over, I would have done something different, as the stress and time consuming nature of the job, has not been worth it.

      • Errin June 22, 2021 at 5:41 pm #

        Abdul you have described the role to perfection. A thankless and soul destroying job.

        • Abdul June 23, 2021 at 10:21 pm #

          Hi Errin; Agreed. I feel sorry for the young Social Workers coming into the profession, looking forward to their career, and wanting to help people, and make changes, and then they walk into ‘a mess’ with little or no support. If the Uni’s were more honest about the nature of the role, the social work course would be empty.

          • frustrated June 24, 2021 at 10:24 pm #

            think very carefully about Social Work because the system is so broken most reasonable people leave quickly. This results in managers who are inexperienced, incompetent and in some cases bullies.

    • Alex June 22, 2021 at 12:08 pm #

      Hi Helena,

      Please don’t focus on the negative aspects.

      Setting boundaries is most important in social work and knowing when to refuse and say no is also essential. Social workers including myself have been culprits of people pleasing and due to this then become overloaded on work.

      Finding the right team is essential and can make a difference, most authorities offer flexibility and it is up to us to use that perk (using TOIL) .

      There are sometimes emergencies, and again there are occasions where we work very late but it is our job to claim those hours back.

      This isn’t an easy job, but people shouldn’t be putting you off this job as it is rewarding too. We become embroiled in the negative aspect.

      We do have to be very organised which admit is hard to sustain to keep up with the paperwork.

      Any questions let me know.

  15. Karen June 21, 2021 at 7:55 am #

    reply to Helena – What stops us is passion and compassion and that’s what gets exploited

  16. thank goodness i escaped June 21, 2021 at 10:00 am #

    I echo what others have said – same old same old. I remember the Munro report being published and feeling really positive – but nothing has changed.

    I would say to anyone wanting to be a Social Worker – don’t! Choose a different profession.

    I got out after 20 years practice 4 years ago and never looked back.

  17. Gerry June 21, 2021 at 5:19 pm #

    I am getting out after 20 years, 10 of those as a manager. The pressure just keeps coming and trying to protect your team as well as doing everything else is impossible.

  18. Andy June 22, 2021 at 12:05 pm #

    I think it is incredibly depressing to read these responses which essentially offer advice to a potential social work student as to why NOT to embark on a CP social work career. Having left the same field just over two years ago after a 25 year career, I’m afraid I’m inclined to offer similar advice. However it would please me greatly if other contributors were to comment on the positive aspects of this valuable profession. Governments need to properly recognise the importance of the job and give it the resources that vulnerable families deserve rather than constantly commissioning periodic research on its failings.

  19. Richard June 22, 2021 at 1:12 pm #

    I agree with most everything people have written, but I do disagree with some of the advice given to Helena.
    Since achieving my ‘CQSW’ in the ’80s, I have worked in most areas of social work and at most levels of management. I have now chosen to finish my career back on the frontline. Of course there have been disappointments and failures. Some clients have ended up in care, some in prison and tragically a few have died prematurely.
    However, I have also played a part in reuniting families, changing lives and I would like to think a few ex-clients are alive today and contributing positively to society as a result of what I did.
    When the time came I supported my daughter to undertake a DipSW and she is now 5 years + qualified and working in Children’s Services. My wife too is a social worker.
    Helena, It is important to note all the challenges you will face as set out above, but if you feel you have the resolve and stamina to make it work, please go for it.
    There have been many lows in my career but the few highs outweigh them all. You really can make a difference and there aren’t many professions that can offer this on an almost daily basis.

  20. Helena Banks June 22, 2021 at 5:09 pm #

    Wow! Thank you so much everyone for taking the time to reply. It’s very much appreciated.
    Could anyone give me a rough average of how much time each case takes up per week?
    Thanks again all, I’m sad to hear that many of you have had such a hard time.

    • Tee June 23, 2021 at 8:36 am #

      One really can’t measure how much time each case will take on average. It depends on the complexity of the case or the needs of the individual children or families. Things change rapidly from one day to the next with the cases because family dynamics aren’t static. I would also like to say that people were giving you a realistic view of the profession rather than stating that the job is about ‘helping people’. Ideally most of us came into the profession to help support people but there is sadly a lot more to the job than that. Staff shortages and cuts in resources makes the job much more challenging and it can impact on your own wellbeing. I wish you the best in your career.

      • Helena Banks June 23, 2021 at 2:50 pm #

        Thank you very much Tee

  21. Helena Banks June 23, 2021 at 10:59 am #

    I have a final question – I notice that many agency jobs advertised locally and know that my LA uses about 20% agency workers. Is it correct to assume that agency workers claim for EVERY hour they work and if so, what stops every social worker working as an agency worker instead of as an employee of the LA?

  22. Abdul June 23, 2021 at 9:58 pm #

    Hi Helena,

    No, it is not correct that agency (or locum) Social Workers get paid for every hour they work, in fact they only get paid the standard 35 or 36 hours per week. That is right across the board, whatever local authority you go too. That is because you are filling 1 position, and if you were able to claim more hours, that would mean an additional salary, & the employer would choose to hire another person – as opposed to paying staff overtime, if they had the budget to do that, which they don’t. If agency Social Workers were paid for every hour they worked, it would be very lucrative financially, and more people would stay, but this would also mean the employer would ‘go broke’ very quickly.

    The Government is not going to pay agency Social Workers for any ‘additional non-contracted hour’s they work, as they already get the additional work done for free, so why would they want to pay for it .

    Another reason they won’t pay overtime, is public sector employees are getting paid out of the ‘public purse’ (i.e. tax money), and the Government does not want to be seen using ‘tax money’ from it’s citizens to pay ‘very generous overtime’ to it’s staff, and there could be a public outcry (about misuse of public funds) if this were to happen, as there is a very ‘negative public perception of Social Worker’s out there already, and this could add ‘fuel’ to an already simmering ‘fire’.

    Although agency Social Worker’s are paid a ‘higher rate’, that is because there is no job security, and you could be given one week’s notice to leave, and there is no paid holidays, no sick pay, and no pension. If you decide to take half a day off, your employer won’t pay you for those hours (regardless of whether you worked 25 hours over your normal hours the week before) , unless there is a prior agreement with them you can take this as TOIL.

    The advantage of ‘being agency’ is you are not locked into a permanent job, and you are free to leave with one or two week’s notice, and if you find yourself in a bad role, you don’t have to give the one or two month standard notice period a permanent worker would legally have to give to their employer.

    The advantage of being permanent are paid holidays, sick days, a pension, more training opportunities, and some local authorities given a ‘lighter or less complex’ caseload to a ‘permanent’ Social Worker (not always), as they are not able to leave so freely, and they are also paid a lot less than an agency Social Worker.

    If you do want to get into statutory, you won’t be doing it for the money, as once you take out all of the ‘unpaid work’ the role entails each week, you will find you are working for an ‘average salary’, and might be paid equal to working the same hours in a ‘minimum wage’ job. For example, an agency Social Worker (experienced) might earn £35 per hour for a 35 hour week, however the amount of work required from management to meet the acceptable standard required, would likely require you to work an additional 20-25 hours per week on top of your standard hours – for free (i.e. starting at 9am, and finishing work at 9pm, and working 1 day every weekend etc), as whilst it may appear agency workers are being paid a ‘generous salary’, your employer expects ‘results’ the minute you walk through the door.

    I would also highly recommend you do a lot of research about a potential employer before you accept a role, and ask about what an ‘average caseload looks like’, how many cases, how many children, the maximum cases you will have in court proceedings at the one time etc. There are some local authorities I would not touch with a barge pole, as they have such a bad reputation, that even as an experienced worker of 20+ years, I would not be willing to work there.

    All the best to you.


  23. Hope July 6, 2021 at 10:39 pm #

    I’ve been in child protection for 15 years and agree with the comments above.

    Tomorrow I’m going to say no for the first time to new cases, as I simply cannot take anymore right now. I’m on case load nearing 40.

    But to Helena, don’t let the bad put you off.
    It’s a hard job, often with no thanks. But when you get it right it’s rewarding.

    The phone call from the victim, saying she’s gone to the police.
    The child smiling as you bring donated presents.
    The mom calling to say she got the kids in school
    The child not going missing and engaging
    The Health visitor to call to say the house is cleaner.

    The closing of cases, the joy in a parents face when you say it’s your last visit.
    The dad telling me, he cooked tea and the kids liked it.
    Kids running at the door to let you in like an old friend, because you have visited so much.
    The joy when a Case is stepped down and the text from the parents to say thanks

    These moments don’t happen every day and you have to commit to your families, some don’t want you, but some do.
    You will be sad to say goodbye and some you will be glad you got it to the point of closure.

    The day you sit in liquid and don’t know what it is, or step in pooh unsure where it’s came from.
    The day you knock the door and realise the kids are alone. The mark you see that will result in a hospital visit, court action.

    No day is the same, no day gives you complete joy or despair. You will feel as though you could do more, but have no more to give, the vast emails, phone calls, messages and meetings to all be recorded. The lack of sleep, the driving to visits with hope it will be OK.

    But we do it because we care and its more than a job, I love my job and hate it in same measure.

    The biggest problem with social workers, we very good at advocating for others and awful for advocating for ourselves.

  24. liz James July 9, 2021 at 3:27 pm #

    How many times do we have to hear this before someone does something about it?

    After 43 years as a social worker I will be retiring next year. I escaped from the LA to the voluntary sector 20 years ago because the writing was on the wall , Budgets were being cut and services were streamlined and centralised. Lots of innovative projects to support children at home were being cut in order to meet high end need. I know it makes me sound as old as I am and I will be accused of being out of step with reality but as far as I am concerned I cannot beat the days when I worked in a patch team where we knew our local families and local professionals and they knew us. There were opportunities to be innovative and creative on a local level as well as county wide. The majority of my time was taken up with face to face contact with vulnerable people. They could actually seek us out when they needed our help. We were not bogged down by excessive paperwork . We did not get everything right of course and terrible things happened but I also know that I did make a difference.

    In recent years I have met young people I worked with 30 years ago . They knew who I was and they told me how life had worked out for them and it was good to hear. Will our service users say that in 20 years time?

    I have always loved my profession . It has been a privilege to be allowed into people’s lives and to have the opportunity to make a difference . But I am not sure I would want my children to enter it now. It makes me very sad.


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