Should social workers be able to work fully remotely?
- Never. Social work is about relationships – with your team and those you support. (36%, 240 Votes)
- Not for frontline case holding positions, but it is workable for other roles. (34%, 229 Votes)
- Yes, including for case holding roles. (28%, 188 Votes)
- I'm not sure (3%, 19 Votes)
Total Voters: 676
The government should set an expectation that frontline children’s social workers carry out face-to-face practice, in the light of concerns about the rise of remote working.
That was the message from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services in its response to a Department for Education (DfE) consultation on setting rules for the use of agency staff in local authority child and family social work.
Its call follows concerns from Ofsted about staff – particularly agency workers – taking fully remote roles because of the shift to virtual working triggered by the pandemic.
The inspectorate cited examples of staff living in rural areas taking posts in London boroughs, at higher salaries, without the need to travel, in a report on the sector’s recovery from Covid, published last July.
Remote working concerns
“This is now possible because of remote working, which enables some desk-based social work to be done from anywhere,” Ofsted said at the time.
“However, this way of working is concerning, as it could erode the quality of social work if social workers lack local knowledge and understanding of the communities that they serve, which are important elements of social work.”
The ADCS raised the issue in relation to a DfE proposal to require a three-month ‘cool-off’ period before a social worker can take up an agency post after leaving a permanent role within the same region.
The association said it wanted this extended to six months, and to local authorities that border the region in question.
“Consideration must also be given to the increased use of remote working in recent years,” it added. “If a social worker is able to work remotely then the mandatory ‘cool off’ period will have little impact.
“To mitigate this potential issue, DfE should be clear that case holding agency child and family social workers are always expected to deliver face to face work with children and families.”
The DfE’s proposed agency staff rules
- All procurement of agency staff should follow national rules.
- National price caps on what local authorities may pay per hour for locums.
- A requirement for social workers who graduated in or after April 2024 to have a minimum of five years’ post-qualified experience working within children’s social care and completion of the ASYE to be appointed to an agency post.
- A ban on agency project teams.
- A requirement for employers to request and provide references for all agency social worker candidates.
- That councils do not engage agency workers for a period of three months after they have left a substantive role within the same region (excluding certain exceptions).
- A requirement for a minimum six-week notice period for agency social workers.
- The collection and sharing of core agency and pay data, to support better workforce planning and the ability to monitor, enforce and assess the impact of the proposals.
The ADCS strongly pushed for the DfE to introduce curbs on agency work, and influenced its proposals, which the department published in February, alongside its plans for wider reform of children’s social care.
Directors have become increasingly concerned by the rising costs of agency work, amid mounting vacancies, the impact of workforce instability on children and the increasing practice of agencies supplying staff through project teams, sometimes with protected caseloads.
Adverse impact of increased agency work
In its consultation response, the association warned: “Local authorities are experiencing an increase in the number of their permanently employed social workers who leave their role to join an agency, leading to far higher rates of staff turnover at an inflated cost.
“This does not benefit the children and families who rely on a consistency of worker who knows their story and has built a strong, lasting relationship.”
However, while backing the proposed changes, the ADCS repeated its call for the DfE to bring forward the implementation date from its current target of spring 2024.
“The cost pressure on local authorities and the instability for children is growing quickly and significantly and ADCS urges the DfE to consider more timely action,” it added.