Should more casework be transferred from social workers to non-social work qualified staff?
- It should be decided on a case-by-case basis (45%, 234 Votes)
- No, this would undermine the quality and integrity of the profession. (38%, 200 Votes)
- Yes, this would free social workers up to focus on more complex cases. (17%, 87 Votes)
Total Voters: 521
There is “momentum for change” among sector leaders and practitioners to tackle the social work’s mounting workforce “crisis”, according to a Social Work England lead.
There was “a universal recognition of the fact that change is needed” among a group, consisting largely of sector leaders, that the regulator has convened to tackle social work’s worsening recruitment and retention issues, Sarah Blackmore told adults’ directors last month.
The regulator had also been “inundated” by applications from practitioners and others to take part in the group’s work, said Blackmore, the regulator’s executive director of professional practice and external engagement.
This will involve contributing to three workstreams – on recruitment, retention and agency work and other working practices – which will start work shortly.
The social work ‘crisis’ in numbers
- One in five (20%) full-time equivalent (FTE) council children’s services posts were vacant as of September 2022, up from 16.7% in September 2021.
- At the same time, 17.6% of FTE children’s services posts were held by agency workers, up from 15.5% as of September 2021.
- The number of frontline “case holding” social workers working in children’s services fell by 8%, from September 2020 to September 2022.
- There was a 40% rise in the number of social workers quitting their posts in children’s services, from 2016-17 to 2021-22.
- 11.6% of social work posts in council adults’ services were vacant as of September 2022, up from 9.5% a year earlier.
- Turnover has also increased in adults’ services, from 15% in the year to September 2021, to 17.1% in the year to 2022.
- Turnover at Cafcass was 15% in the year to March 2023, up from 12.2% the previous year.
‘Perfect storm’ of high caseloads and perceived low status
Speaking at the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ (ADASS) annual spring seminar, Blackmore said the worsening picture for recruitment and retention in social work reflected a “perfect storm” for the profession that had built up over many years.
This was driven by factors including rising demand “high caseloads, inflexible working practices, disproportionality for our global majority colleagues, perceived low status and credibility of the profession…and of course the impact of funding issues”.
Blackmore warned that some of the solutions put forward to date – such as banning agency social work, increasing international recruiting or making greater use of non-qualified staff to carry out social work tasks – had been inadequate.
On locum staff, the Department for Education (DfE) has proposed rules to restrict their use in council children’s services to curb rising costs and practices such as agencies only supplying social workers through project teams.
The situation had led former Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) president Steve Crocker to moot a ban on the use of agency staff in children’s services, though he and the ADCS subsequently backed the DfE’s proposals, consultation on which closed this week.
Blackmore said, while there was a need to deal with the practices of some agencies in only supplying “expensive” project teams or stipulating that staff need not carry out face-to-face practice, there would “never be a time where social work will not need some element of agency workers”.
‘Knee-jerk approach’ in recruiting from overseas
Amid a 175% increase in the number of overseas social workers applying to work in England over the past three years, said there had been “a knee-jerk approach, where overseas social workers are being recruited often without local support, cultural adaptations, pastoral care, or sometimes even a recognition that there may be registration issues”.
She said there were also “important ethical considerations of moving social workers from countries where there is already great need for them to deal with a problem we have not addressed”.
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) recently raised concerns about Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) proposals for councils to have more assessments carried out by non-qualified staff, to deal with social worker vacancies.
Blackmore told the spring seminar that the “increasing delegation” of previously social work tasks to non-qualified staff risked “the gradual erosion of the integrity of the social work profession” as well as further depleting an already-stretched social care workforce.
Workforce group membership and terms of reference
The group meets every six weeks and is chaired by Social Work England. It currently includes:
- from government, the chief social worker for adults, Lyn Romeo, and representatives from the DHSC and DfE (the DfE was not initially involved but Blackmore said it was now);
- from senior management, ADCS, ADASS and other director representatives;
- from practice leadership, the Adult Principal Social Workers network, the Principal Children and Families Social Worker (PCFSW) Network, practice leader representatives and the AMHP Leads Network;
- from professional bodies and unions, BASW and UNISON;
- people with lived experience of social work;
- from local government, the Local Government Association and senior management body SOLACE;
- from inspection and regulation, the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted;
- from social work education, the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee;
- from workforce development, Skills for Care and Health Education England;
- from research and practice development, Research in Practice and the Social Care Institute for Excellence.
Its purpose is to:
- Share advice, expertise and strategic leadership to help set a national direction for the social work workforce.
- Strengthen partnership working and deepen relationships between system leaders, establishing a shared understanding of roles, responsibilities and levers they hold in relation to the workforce.
- Steer the work of the three workstreams on: recruitment and attracting new social workers; agency work, international recruitment and the role of social care staff; retaining experienced staff.
‘Momentum for change’
She said Social Work England had convened the workforce group to develop “a broader, more considered systemic approach” and, in the meetings so far, there had been “a real sense of collective energy and momentum for change”.
“There is hope, and opportunity, and perhaps for the first time, a universal recognition of the fact that change is needed and must now come, and willingness to step up both individually and collectively of those who are in a position to bring that about,” she told the spring seminar.
Social Work England has also encouraged practitioners to apply to take part in the group’s three workstreams.
In a statement to Community Care, Blackmore said: “Thank you to everyone who has submitted an expression of interest for the workstreams. We have been inundated with offers of support and will be contacting successful applicants very shortly before setting up the first series of meetings.”