Does your caseload match the average calculated by the DfE?

    According to the Department for Education, the average caseload for children's social workers in English councils is 16, but does that chime with frontline staff's experience?

    Photo by Community Care

    Most social workers hold caseloads above the average calculated by the Department for Education (DfE), a Community Care poll has found.

    As of September 2023, DfE findings show that the average caseload held by children’s practitioners in English councils has decreased to 16 cases, from 16.6 in September 2022.

    The number was calculated by dividing the number of children or young people allocated to a named social worker by the number of full-time equivalent practitioners, including agency staff.

    However, a recent Community Care poll, amassing 586 votes, has found that most respondents (73%) held more cases than the DfE’s average.


    Only 9% reported holding 10-15 cases, while about 18% had caseloads close to the DfE’s calculation, at 15-20 cases.

    The rest had well above 16 cases: 28% said they were working on 20-25 cases, 19% said 25-30, 10% said 30-35 and 16% reported being assigned more than 35.

    The DfE’s low figure has come under criticism for underestimating social workers’ caseloads.

    One likely reason for this is that all registered practitioners who hold cases are included in the denominator for the figures.

    This means those who hold relatively few cases, such as managers, depress the overall average.

    Is your current caseload in tune with the DfE’s findings or our poll result?

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    14 Responses to Does your caseload match the average calculated by the DfE?

    1. David April 4, 2024 at 4:20 pm #

      Clearly, as you acknowledge DfE’s claim that the average Social Work caseload in English local authorities was 16 in 2023 does not chime with the reality of what Social Workers are experiencing. In addition, and importantly, cases have become more complex with increasing tasks placed on the shoulders of Social Workers with tight targets and timescales for completion of identified tasks. Research has consistently demonstrated that Social Workers are having to work 50 hours and more in an attempt to keep on top of the workloads. This is way above their contracted hours, and no additional financial reward is made for the additional hours worked. Social Workers are left exhausted and feel exploited. No wonder that there is an exodus of Social Workers “in droves’ from the workforce

      • Jessica April 5, 2024 at 3:47 pm #

        Well said! The team I am we have held 20 cases more than expected or agreed. We have our performance payment for Monday I am sure it will be graded as satisfactory not excellent as we have managed high cases with no disasters only to our own health and well being.

        Some workers hold 80 plus cases if in the IRO or CP service which again is is ridiculous.

        No one listens it’s been the same response for 40 years. What also gets me is the numbers reflected with social work assistants who are holding cases. An unqualified social work managers doing supervision why does no one look at this.

        High case loads are constant it’s also the weighting of the cases that isn’t factored in. Key performance indicators that rule supervision not child focused but system says this……

    2. Kelly April 4, 2024 at 10:04 pm #

      As pointed out, if you didn’t include non-case holding positions (management positions etc) then the average case load would look very different.

    3. Pauline April 5, 2024 at 9:46 am #

      Why are LA childrens social workers being gas lighted by the DoE? Why include non case holding positions such as managers in the statistics? The cynic in me thinks this is so that they can continue with the status quo – no additional funding needed. SWE are a joke. We need a national body to represent social workers with a national pay scale and one Union for all social workers with ‘teeth’.

    4. Martin April 5, 2024 at 10:09 am #

      The problem with this calculation has already been highlighted. All Social Workers employed by the LA are included in the calculation, so adoption and fostering workers etc. I am not aware of managers being included in the calculation. The total number of employed QSW’s is divided by the number of open cases, this is why the figures provided by DFE are markedly different to the reality SW’s face.
      I don’t believe that this is a deliberate ploy by DFE, but is in fact due to people setting up the calculation not having a background in SW and therefore not understanding that some SW’s do not carry cases in the way they believe.
      I have however raised this with DFE several times, but there appears little appetite for changing this at the moment, presumably as this would highlight the fact that the figures have been incorrect for many years.

    5. Michael April 5, 2024 at 12:41 pm #

      It’s more about the complexity of cases than the number. Are there any tools that could accurately assess this?

      • David April 5, 2024 at 6:31 pm #

        Hi Michael

        A caseload-weighting system to which managers are definitely committed to? This should genuinely reflect the level of work and time that each case demands. Currently my experience is that managers allocate without even consulting with the SW as to whether or not s/he had the capacity to take on further cases.

        I recall the tragedy of the death of Victoria Climbie. Lord Laiming in his subsequent report noted that SW’s raised that they would return from a w/end off or A/L to find files placed on their desk as new allocations and without any discussion with the SWs. This was now over 20 years ago and managers have not learned. Really sad

    6. john stephenson April 5, 2024 at 1:51 pm #

      Since when did the facts matter.

    7. Graham Beamish April 5, 2024 at 4:22 pm #

      Using the average as a sole measure is flawed for the reasons above and that some social workers will have significantly lower caseloads at any point in time for a range of reasons e.g. return to work. The median would be a useful additional measure

    8. David April 9, 2024 at 3:38 am #

      The mindset of managers needs to change from the focus on targets and timescales , and consequent exploitation to the importance of valuing the 37 hour week to support their Social Workers

    9. Paul April 9, 2024 at 11:09 am #

      The survey did not take into account if newly qualified, as often have lower, less complex caseloads and more experienced workers. Plus, some councils not counting indiviual childten, lumping sibling groups as a “case”. I would add, some IT systems are not fit for purpose, so they increase pressures… sick of directors and ADs saying its cheaper and they dont use them!

    10. Tom W April 10, 2024 at 7:08 pm #

      This ‘16’ figure has been bandied around for the past few years now…but I’m yet to understand why. Is it to encourage new entrants to the profession? Is it Local Authorityies trying to convince themselves and everyone else that things are ok? As someone that once worked as a Data Analyst, you can make figures look however you like by choosing the right data. Part-Time workers, ASYEs / NQSWs, workers on a phased-return, etc. will all contribute to bringing the average figure down.

      We all know the real situation; cases are more complex than ever and referrals are at an all-time high.

    11. Social Worker April 11, 2024 at 9:48 pm #

      As much As I have enjoyed being a Social Worker for 15 years, the system sets us up to fail. It is widely known that Social Workers hold higher caseloads than DfE recommends, this has been known for years but nothing has been done about it.
      Social Workers are overworked and under paid, we are made to feel it is our fault if children aren’t seen on time or we do not meet timescales with no consideration of the fact that we are under great pressure, working long hours (Social Work is not a 9-5 job) and we have high caseloads.

      It is humanly impossible for Social Worker to keep on track of families and do good pieces of work when caseloads are 20 plus families, yet we are blamed when KPIs are low. Some LAs have a dashboard which names and shames Social Workers who aren’t meeting timescales! This is not at all helpful but rather works to instill fear, leading to workers working late and over the weekend to meet timescales.

      We ask for more staff, we are told there is no money, the LA has over spent, we are asked to do more and more work with families, how are we expected to do it all? It is an impossible task with high caseloads.

      I have worked in many LAs whereby Senior Management find funding to pay for external reviewers to prepare the LA for OFSTED, yet when we ask for more staff we are told there is no money, or we are told we are doing too much work and holding up cases, and when we cut back, our work is returned to us and we are told we haven’t done enough.

      It is sad to say the system doesn’t work, God forbid a child is fatally injuried, we are told it is the Social Worker’s fault. I am genuinely intrigued as to how we are expected to do excellent pieces of work and hear the voice of the children when working on over 20 cases/families sometimes with a total of 30 plus children, it makes absolutely no logical sense.

      Social workers are made to feel at fault, we aren’t doing enough, we should have done more, we should have known, we missed the signs, I could go on and on. Give us consistent caseloads of 15 families or less, adjust working hours or pay us for over time, build and train supportive managers who do not blame and shame but rather encouraged and support, and maybe then we will be able to do good pieces of work with all children on our caseloads.

      I have so much more I could say but it won’t change anything. After 15 years, I am leaving the profession because the system is not working and Social Workers are overworking themselves to meet timescales and deadlines, with no thanks or overtime payment, there is too much blame, never enough support, lack of staffing, staff benefits aren’t great, and we get blamed when things go pear shaped. I have enjoyed working with children, but the additional pressure and stress from management with lack of staff and no appreciation has affected my mental health. For my own sake, I made the decision to leave the profession.

      • Social Worker April 12, 2024 at 11:25 am #

        To add to this,some managers are tight with TOIL, I’m told the Council only allows 1 or 2 days TOIL, meanwhile I accumulate 30-40 hours overtime a month. When I speak to my manager about it, I’m told I haven’t been asked to work these hours and I must not be managing my caseload well. Meanwhile, when I cut back on overtime and this impacts my timescales because it is not possible to do the amount of work required within 37 hours, I’m told I am not managing my work, my KPIs are low. There is an unspoken expectation for Social Workers to work overtimeas though this is exceptable. My colleagues are online at 2am in the morning writing reports, this is not helathy.