Fund return to social work scheme and boost admin support to tackle vacancies, LGA urges government

Local Government Association calls for action to rapidly increase children's social work workforce and boost retention in forthcoming autumn statement

Post-it note with the welcome 'welcome back' next to a cup of coffee

How adequate is the support for people to return to social work?

  • Not at all (57%, 43 Votes)
  • Not very (33%, 25 Votes)
  • Very (5%, 4 Votes)
  • Quite (4%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 75

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The government should find £500,000 to help 200 former practitioners return to social work in its forthcoming autumn statement, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.

The proposals was one of three put forward by the LGA to “rapidly increase the children’s social worker workforce and retain those currently in post” in the context of vacancy rates that reached a record high of 20% last September.

It also urged ministers to boost administrative support, training and supervision capacity for practitioners as well as fund programmes and bursaries enabling those in other professions to retrain as social workers.

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Have you ever had to take a long break from social work? How did you find the process of returning to the profession? If you would be interested in sharing your experience email our community journalist, Anastasia Koutsounia, at

The proposals came in a submission to government on the autumn statement, which will be delivered on 22 November and set out ministers’ latest tax and spending plans.

The LGA said service pressures were “leading to children’s social workers leaving council social work or leaving the profession altogether”, citing the latest Department for Education (DfE) council workforce statistics.

Worsening workforce picture

These showed that:

  • 31,600 full-time equivalent (FTE) children’s social workers were in post in English councils as of September 2022.
  • This is down 2.7% (868 FTE posts) since 2021 and the first fall since records began in 2017.
  • 820 of the 868 lost posts were in case-holding roles – those that held cases but were not a senior practitioner or manager.
  • There were 14,910 case-holding posts as of September 2022, down by 5.2% since September 2021 and 7.6% since September 2020.
  • One in five (20%) posts were vacant, up from 16.7% in September 2021.
  • 6,760 posts were held by agency workers, as of September 2022, up 13% on the previous year.
  • 17.6% of posts were held by agency workers, up from 15.5% as of September 2021.
  • Councils lost 5,422 social workers in 2021-22, up 40% since 2016-17.

“Children and family social workers report significant increases in their stress levels and workloads over time,” the LGA added, citing findings from the DfE’s separate longitudinal survey of council children’s social workers.

The LGA made the same call for the government to fund a return to social work scheme last year, on the grounds it would alleviate workforce pressures.

A similar scheme in 2020-21, providing training to formerly registered social workers, saw 133 practitioners return to the register, with 79 having been offered a job, found a government evaluation published in 2022.

How to return to social work in England

Previously registered social workers can rejoin the register through Social Work England’s restoration process. For those who left the register within the previous two years, this involves providing information on their employment since leaving and any updated information on issues such as health conditions that could affect practice or criminal convictions or cautions.

Those who left between two and five years previously must also provide evidence of having spent 30 days updating their skills and knowledge in the previous 12 months, while for those who have not been registered for more than five years the requirement is 60 days. This can encompass supervised practice, formal study or private learning, but the latter must take up no more than half of the required number of days.

It costs £135 to apply for restoration, and those who are successful must then pay the annual £90 registration fee, or a proportionate amount based on when they rejoin.

The LGA praised the government’s planned national rules to regulate councils’ use of agency social workers in children’s services, and said it would “like to see these rules introduced as quickly as possible”.

However, the DfE has delayed its response to the consultation on the rules, which include national price caps on what councils pay agencies and a ban on the locum social work teams.

It has also suggested only some of the rules would be implemented in line with the original target date – spring 2024 – for the full set of measures.

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3 Responses to Fund return to social work scheme and boost admin support to tackle vacancies, LGA urges government

  1. Louise October 20, 2023 at 4:42 pm #

    It has just taken me 9 months to restore my registration instead of the advertised 40 days. UK trained working overseas under regulated social work system, good reference and experience, yet faced many challenges to been deemed suitable.

    In contrast I applied for a return to nursing programme and was accepted within 3 weeks. I will attend uni part time and complete a competency based placement abd within 6 months I will be re-registered. Wish I taken that option first.

    Maybe someone need to look at how restoration process hinders social work applications.

  2. M Wilson October 23, 2023 at 6:57 am #

    The lack of admin support, even if addressed will not last. There is little evidence of social workers being appropriately supported on a number of levels for many years. I will not be fooled in to returning. A bullying culture pervades whilst tick boxing maintains a tokenistic service…

  3. Alison October 24, 2023 at 9:48 am #

    Again the government and policy makers showing how out of touch with the reality of the job they are.

    Until the real underlying reasons for social workers leaving the profession are tackled, there will continue to be more people leaving than entering.

    Social workers are regularly abused by their organisations, gaslighted into believing they are inadequate for not managing a massive and complex case load with almost no support.

    Complaining has no effect on managers who will keep adding to your work without considering whether you can manage or not. Most front line workers regularly work until close to bedtime and weekends to be able to do the bare minimum.
    In some counties, social workers literally risk their lives driving through dangerous country lanes in the dark ans winter doing visits and no one will check if they got home safe.

    I am in the profession for only 5 years and already considering my exit plan.