DfE urges non-practising social workers to return to profession in face of renewed Covid pressures

Children’s minister asks temporarily registered practitioners to help ease strain on services in context of recent Omicron surge

Will Quince
Children's minister Will Quince (photo: DfE)

Article amended to clarify that temporarily registered social workers are on the same register as those permanently registered

The Department for Education has renewed calls for children’s social workers who are not currently practising to return to the profession temporarily to ease staffing pressures caused by Covid-19.

With staff absences within public services a mounting concern since the rapid rise of the Omicron variant, children’s minister Will Quince urged non-employed practitioners temporarily registered with Social Work England to contact their council’s children’s services department or sign up with a local agency.

“Many local workforces are facing pressure due to Covid-19,” he posted on social media just before Christmas.

“We need those who can to consider stepping forward to support them, and most importantly our vulnerable families.”

Most non-employed social workers – those who are not registered and have not practised for more than two years – would have to take at least 30 days of refresher training before being allowed to return to frontline practice.

Some 6,449 practitioners are now temporarily registered with Social Work England, according to the regulator, which allows those who have not practised for less than two years to return to frontline practice without having to train or re-register, but the government will decide to end this arrangement when it deems it unnecessary.

“Social workers with temporary registration status can apply for roles with local authorities, health trusts and other employers in England, helping to protect the public amidst staff shortages,” the regulator said in a blog.

“If you can support on a temporary basis, we would encourage you to contact your local authority or sign up with a local agency.

“We would like to thank all social workers who have indicated that they want to return to practise, as well as all those currently practising in extremely challenging circumstances.”

Recruitment programme closed

The minister’s request came three months after a government-backed programme to connect councils and social workers returning to practice to support the local response to coronavirus closed due to a lack of funding.

Social Work Together launched in April 2020, was run jointly by Social Work England and the Local Government Association (LGA), and was backed by the DfE and the Department of Health and Social Care.

The programme had relatively low uptake, with just 32 social workers recruited through it as of December 2020 despite over 1,000 practitioners and 126 of the 151 councils signing up to the campaign.

When the scheme closed on 30 September 2021, the LGA said the scheme could reopen if it received additional funding.

Temporary registration set to end

Alongside the Social Work Together scheme, Social Work England enabled social workers to temporarily register from March 2020 to bolster the workforce during the pandemic, with anyone failing to renew their permanent registration since March 2018 enrolled automatically.

Social workers who failed to renew their registration in 2020 were also temporarily registered.

But, according to a survey published in May last year as part of the government’s review of the Coronavirus Act 2020, only around 100 of 13,500 former social workers temporarily registered at the time were practising.

The government will end temporary registration when it determines there is no longer a need for emergency cover due to Covid pressures. Since last November, Social Work England has been removing practitioners who have not renewed for more than two years from the register.

Social Work England said last month after its annual registration drive for 2021 concluded that practitioners who failed to renew would not remain temporarily registered.

It also warned those temporarily registered to apply to restore their full registration as the government was planning to close it and they could therefore lose their ability to practise.

Retraining for out-of-practice social workers

The LGA ran its Return to Social Work programme in 2020/21, offering free refresher training to those who had been out of practice for between two and 10 years, which led to 133 out of 183 practitioners who completed the scheme being restored to the register and 72 returning to employment.

But the scheme has yet to be replaced.

A spokesperson for the LGA called on the government to provide more funding for social workers’ retraining.

“We encourage non-practicing social workers to consider whether they can come forward to ensure these vital services can continue, even if that may be on a flexible basis, but recognise that adequate funding is required to ensure those who have been away from the profession for more than two years can be re-trained and re-registered to provide a long-term, safer solution,” they said.

“We would also like to see a greater focus on communication from government, engaging recruiting managers, HR and social work teams in this effort, to both plug the current gap and better equip the area moving forward.”

Support for returning social workers needed

John McGowan, Social Workers Union (SWU) general secretary, said the government’s recent call for practitioners to return to frontline service seemed a “quick fix” and that it should offer “suitable support for social workers who are keen to apply”.

“To use their expertise effectively, social workers must be inducted and integrated appropriately with adequate access to supervision and support,” he said.

“Previous participants in the ‘return to practice’ programme told SWU that there were huge pressures on them, given the excessive backloads and a lack of support.

“The reality is that this government’s austerity measures have led to the resource drain and additional pressures on social workers. Given the continuing problems of social work recruitment and retention, longer term action is required to stem the flow of workers leaving the profession.”

Councils plan for shortages

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) welcomed the DfE’s latest call for social workers to return to frontline practice.

Steve Crocker, ADCS vice president, said the Social Work Together campaign had supported authorities’ responses to the staff shortages during the first wave of the pandemic.

He said councils were now planning again for workforce shortages “should a high number of social workers fall ill with Covid-19 or need to self-isolate in line with government guidelines”.

“Nationally we need to recruit and retain more social workers so any additional workforce shortages as a result of Covid-19 will be a challenge for us, this is why any efforts to encourage experienced social workers to support the profession and children and families once again are welcome,” he said.

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27 Responses to DfE urges non-practising social workers to return to profession in face of renewed Covid pressures

  1. Anthea January 4, 2022 at 9:45 pm #

    Trying retaining the staff you already recruited before you chase your tail comes to mind.

    • mo January 7, 2022 at 5:41 pm #

      I agree, this would be a good common sense solution,

  2. Mark January 5, 2022 at 8:51 am #

    After the Tories have given us 12 years of real terms pay cuts, and inflicted savage cuts to local authority budgets, driving social workers away from their posts, they are now pausing between covid breaching cheese and wine parties and handing out PPE contracts to their chums to request social workers return to work.


    • Chris Mitchell January 7, 2022 at 6:42 pm #

      I left in September 2020 and second your comments fully.

      These Tory subhumans have wrecked social care and the health service too, whilst lining their own pockets and partying whilst others perished.

      They can go forth and ……

      I’m not coming back to their mess.

  3. Toni January 5, 2022 at 9:27 am #

    In the last few months before I resigned I was spat at, threatened with a knife, my car vandalised and maliciously reported to the SWE which ofcourse took its usual snail pace to conclude no case to answer. My employer shrugged and prioritised increasing my work load. I am 37 years old. I write this sitting on my terrace in Trapani, Sicily. Even with the tribulations of covid in Italy, what possible incentive would induce me to return to practiding social work in the UK where bureaucracy overwhelms all else. As a bonus, the coming months will see the vilification of children’s social workers reach peak Daily Mail bile. Good luck with inducing the great return. The desperate inducers shrieking committment have been sat at home for 18 months. Let them come into offices and create caseloads. Time to shine even brighter PSWs.

    • Darcey January 5, 2022 at 9:42 pm #

      Completely agree Toni , wild horses etc

    • Celia January 6, 2022 at 5:17 pm #

      Completely agree as it’s the Tory party cuts that have lead to the catastrophe of Social Care. 80 billion pound worth of cuts I believe from adult and children’s services what did they think would happen. The amount of paperwork is totally unnecessary and it’s not allowing workers to get out there with their families to do valuable work. They will continue to blame everything on Covid.

  4. Annie .SW up north January 5, 2022 at 9:58 am #

    Surely the starting point is is looking at all those SWE removed from register for not meeting the deadline??

  5. Niven Bonegio January 5, 2022 at 10:59 am #

    Thank you for the article highlighting the need to get experienced social workers back to practice. What I don’t understand is why it has to be such a protracted and difficult process to get back onto the SW England register to practice.

    I completed the LGA Return to Social Work programme and have just started in my first job back working in adult social care. The whole process took me over 2 years from the time I got accepted onto the course till I was restored to SW England register to practice again. Because I had been out of social work for more than five years I needed to complete 60 days of formal and informal study including a 20 day supervised practice placement. I did this while holding down a full time time job, family life and the impact of Covid-19 and several lock downs in between. Most of the social workers on the course like me were women who had taken a break to have children or needed to take on caring roles or had a period of ill health and never expected to find that in reality the requirements set first by the HCPC and taken over by SW England would be virtually impossible to achieve. As a social work manager said to me he had never heard of having to work so hard to get a job and I totally agree.

    Going forward SW England needs to look really carefully at these requirements and how they are impeding social workers getting back to the profession. I am afraid until this is done the profession will be missing out on experienced workers who not for lack of trying just can’t meet the bureaucratic hurdles set.

    • A Man Called Horse January 6, 2022 at 8:59 am #

      I think that people need to understand that this is about saying we have total power over you and that you have zero control over your entry into employment. Social Work England is saying you belong to us we own you. Clearly when many people trained for this job they would not have had to submit to this kind of power. You should also recognise that peoples contract of employment with local authorities has also been invalidated by the requirements of Social Work England who now effectively decide if you can work in my opinion it is an outrageous abuse of power. Social Work England exists to protect the public from you that is the genesis of why it exists. There is no other profession that has such a negative narrative of its workforce. I have just quit my job after 30 years had enough of this nonsense.

      • Aziz January 6, 2022 at 4:38 pm #

        Spot on about erosion of employers contractual obligation by SWE. This is why the collusion of BASW, Unison and the pimple unions is such a disgrace. I joined what was Nalgo and had zero anxiety about my employment terms and conditions at that time. I am no longer a Unison member, and left the immeasurably impotent but overinflated self promoting BASW years ago. Actually, SWE is not content to regulate a well trained profession. They break the law to tell us what to think and which political views we can have if we want to work as social workers. And they are championed for it by ‘our’ leaders. Those of us who see the con and perhaps have experienced the bullying and the incompetence walk away. Let the PSWs run the show if they can hack it. Surely it can’t be that difficult given their incessant hectoring about good practice. What better time than now to show it really isn’t rocket science?

      • Frances January 7, 2022 at 11:31 am #

        Absolutely agree with this statement. Have no career thanks to the powers of SWE, despite my adhering to the outrageous demands of 60 days of paperwork I missed one email. They closed my case via a further email this process took one year to complete and they closed it with no consideration. I trained to be a Social Worker and I can’t get a job in social work ….

        • Ginny January 14, 2022 at 7:31 pm #

          I missed one piece of paperwork and had to pay the £135 fee again as well as £45 payment. I was off with stress at the time and this only served to make me feel completely hopeless and wishing to leave the profession. I wonder who is SWE and whether we are paying a bunch of people to hound and obstruct us. What are they for. seriously?

  6. Olivia g January 5, 2022 at 12:54 pm #

    Why is DfE not train more social workers through its step up programmes, we apply but always told number is full and its so fristrating having to wait for september for universities to start programmes when we are wolling to study via fast track programmes. Isnt it financially viable than recruiting from outside country???‍♀️??‍♀️

    • Tom J January 6, 2022 at 10:01 am #

      I agree Olivia.

      There is very little long term planning. The Government did try to sell its highly expensive FrontLine programme as the magic wand, but we now know that this has not worked*

      They could greatly expand Step Up, but also invest in the brick universities, including offering bursaries and removing the university fees. They could get 100’s of good candidates in a heartbeat. There are many people who would be keen to go into social work; but they cannot afford to go 2-3 years at a university without any money.

      * https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2021/12/17/disconnect-between-fast-track-social-work-training-and-real-world-practice-review-finds/

  7. Errin January 5, 2022 at 9:38 pm #

    Return to a thankless , exploitative, uncaring profession? Why would I ever want to?
    I assume many ex social workers feel the same.

    • Helen January 8, 2022 at 11:02 am #

      I agree, I left the profession for a reason, the conditions of work were beyond reasonable and my health suffered as a result. I trained in my late 40’s after working in support roles in different sectors for many years (substance misuse, Youth Offending, Parent support).
      It wasn’t my ‘resilience’ that let me down, it was the ridiculous pressures and unachievable workload in a child protection team (a caseload of 29 on a 4 day week….) that lead to a mental health breakdown. I now also have Long Covid and can’t help but wonder if the fact my defences were compromised after being worked like a dog.
      I found I just couldn’t win, pressures from managers and targets, abuse on a daily basis from clients, I quickly realised that this was not a way to earn a living and that my local authority employers really didn’t give a stuff.

  8. TB January 6, 2022 at 3:18 pm #

    Why would anyone wish to return to a profession they left, when it’s resources have been strategically stripped to its carcass. I want know the material the ministers use in their blindfolds, as I believe they’ll be more effective than masks. Nothing gets through.

  9. johnstephenson January 7, 2022 at 5:44 pm #

    Love to return to Social Work,but I am not going to jump through the hoops that Social Work
    England would expect me to ,to be re-registered,a loss of 25 years experience in Social Work.

  10. MW January 7, 2022 at 10:52 pm #

    In Nov 2021 I looked at returning to SW after a 2 year break, and there were no courses available to enable me to do so. I have not found SWE helpful in this respect, nor am I aware of any Local Authorities providing places to SWs seeking to return to practice. Nothing but hurdles, and dead ends, leaving me very sorry to hear of the crises in SW only heightened by Covid.

  11. James Stewart January 8, 2022 at 9:29 am #

    Hmm let’s see. Wake up whenever I feel rested, plan my day around what suits me, read a bit, garden a bit, go for a walk in the Coquet Valley, have a proper sit down lunch, speak to friends without bursting into tears, no knot in my stomach, or return to a social work that values bureaucracy over relationships, budgets over meaningful provision, provides no meaningful supervision or training, doesn’t tolerate challenge to orthodoxy, sees bullying as strong management, pays no heed to the obvious and behaves as if seeing a social worker is a privilege the unwashed should be grateful to have ‘access’ to. Tough choice really. The prospect of the latter with the incentive of 32 cases on my first day back is obviously tempting but seeing the rainbow at the end of my garden with the prospect of a peasepudding stottie is a better choice. Pay your social workers some respect, value their skills and intelligence, believe them when they are speaking to you, treat them well, pay them better, allow them some autonomy, don’t regard them as a potential nightmare and you might just induce them to stay so you don’t have “reach out” in desperation to the likes of me. If you chose to listen to your staff rather than allow yourselves to be beguiled by tweets, podcasts and self defined experts, you would be better managers and the people you are meant to serve would get to see a social worker for more than 20 minutes every 5 weeks. But I suppose blathering on about Coproduction and CPD without knowing what they should be is an easier conscience salve. So that’s a No from me.

  12. A Social Worker January 8, 2022 at 1:37 pm #

    To ‘A Man Called Horse’, I will miss your comments. All the best for the future.

    To any Social Workers thinking of returning to the profession, we would welcome you with open arms and could really use your experience, skills and knowledge. But please think carefully about the reasons you left in the first place…

    • Ash January 11, 2022 at 9:26 am #

      Peer acceptance is great but doesn’t compensate for a culture that debases social work and social workers. So thanks but not the incentive to return. I left, after 19 years, because I couldn’t reconcile my professional and personal ethics with the realities of an increasingly authoritarian and oppressive practice. Aziz and James say it better.

  13. Alison Turnbull January 11, 2022 at 3:27 pm #

    I resign my post and left a profession I loved when in the first wave of the pandemic our managers retread ro their homes to.”test new ways of working” but demanded we still do visits and come to our office on alternate days. We had no PPE to.speak of and we were advised to carry a flask of hotbeater to “sanitise”. My colleague got covid and spent nearly 3 months in hospital most of it in an induced coma. We got an e-mail “advising” us about the importance of hand washing. I was scared and anxious. My manager was extremely pleased with herself at setting up group Zoom supervision from the safety of her kitchen. We carried on getting into the office and doing visits under an implied threat that not doing this was a breach of contract. I know social workers in other local authorities who had similar experiences. Why would I return to work in a profession that treats workers with this kind of contempt while pretending they value us?

  14. Anton January 13, 2022 at 11:48 am #

    Please come back we really value you. Remember you will have no wages for 30 or 90 days while we train you. Also make sure you have your £135 ready for SWE to register you. We are offering you quality training so you will need to read every legislation, amendment, guidance and the like. Well ofcourse you never did that while you were practicing but we have to find something to justify our funding don’t we. Also it’s fun making you jump through hoops. Do you know how dull it is trying to pretend we know what we are doing? Did you just despair? Well that’s training you for the realities of social work isn’t it? Be grateful that we are letting you know what your returning to.

  15. Incentivised January 15, 2022 at 9:58 am #

    I was offered quite a good “return bonus” by the same employer that “incentifised” me to take voluntary redundancy. Took the latter to set up my own training consultancy. Won’t be taking the new offer though I have suggested they commission me to set up a pathway on how they can induce others to return.

  16. Carol January 19, 2022 at 12:50 pm #

    Reassuring to know satire isn’t dead yet.