Agenda item

Children and Families Workforce Strategy Review (including Social Worker Health Check)


Jo Davies (Service Manager (Practice Improvement) summarised the two reports:

·   There was a national shortage of social workers

·   5000 social workers left the profession in 2021

·   National vacancy rates in 2021 went up 7% which was the highest in the 5 years

·   Social workers employed by agencies increased by 3%

·   Local Authorities/Trusts in the West Midlands were experiencing difficulties recruiting social workers, especially more qualified ones 

·   This resulted in a competitive employment market with employers using additional payments to employ or retain social workers

·   This has been made more difficult because of the current economic climate

·   WCC focused on showing how good the Council was to work for by reducing caseloads and making them manageable, investing money in professional opportunities for social workers and improving the quality of supervision and career development opportunities

·   They focused on supporting social workers in their career by launching the Children and Families Academy which provides development opportunities across the workforce and prioritises the practice model of social work progression

·   In May 2021 two new roles were introduced (Level 5 social worker which models decision making and social work practice and Enhanced Team Leader which focuses on strategic leadership and management responsibilities). Both have a competitive salary for the region and have been positive developments

·   Team leaders needed more training opportunities around their leadership so they commissioned a programme that all team leaders have attended and a monthly strategic group where they focus on workforce strategy

·   The two main sources of data are the Local Government Association (LGA) who do an annual health check and the DfE (Department for Education)

·   The annual health checks monitor performance standards against people's perceptions of those standards. WCC performed well with schools in a strong and clear social work framework that was recommended with Ofsted

·   They recognise the availability of support and supervision for social workers who felt they had the time/opportunity for their professional development

·   WCC identified five days a year for each social worker to support their CPD development, some will be mandatory and some for their own professional development, More work was being done around this

·   The survey had 90 questions and were scored between 0-100. They were then triangulated and scored against nine different themes

·   WCC scored well against eight themes and they one the scored worst on was Covid-19 related (73% satisfaction rate); this was caused by changes in Public Health. The survey was done December 2021

·   The other area of information received is the annual return to the DFA which is done annually in September. The data included a three-year profile around agency staff, vacancy and absence because they are indicators of the overall health of WCC’s workforce and average caseloads. This includes the ranges within the West Midlands as well as the national ranges

·   WCC reduced their agency usage and were below the regional and national averages as well as their workloads, vacancy rates were stable, turnover rates were 1% lower than the regional average

·   The amount of newly qualified and level 3 social workers remained stable too but there was a reduction in level 4 social workers, some were internally promoted

·   There was a marginal fall in level 2 social workers

·   The plan is for 20% of WCC’s social worker workforce to be newly qualified, 30% experienced social workers and 50% advanced social workers

·   51% of their social workers were level 3 which was higher than desired, but it was difficult to retain more experienced social workers

·   Recruitment activity was continuing with HR colleagues and this focused-on progression and the reduction in caseloads

·   However, an average case load for the year masks some fluctuations between teams and demand at different times of year which caused some social workers to feel that their caseloads were not manageable. Work was being done to mitigate this as it affected retention

·   There was a lot of consistent recruitment over two years with success but there was less success with getting more experienced social workers. There were a lot of social media campaigns and analytics about promotional media promotional stuff working with marketing colleagues. This is a cheap form of promotion and positive

·   A new team leader job role with a regional competitive salary attracted some good external applicants and demonstrated the importance of ensuring salaries were in keeping regionally

·   CYE retention rate improved by 10% since May 2021, this coincided with the Academy’s launch. This showed it was valuable and showed the focus on coaching/supportive relationships so they can embed their learning in practice

·   A policy around a minimum CPT time and a good induction will e embedded

·   Work was done with HR colleagues around making learning activity programmes to make it more manageable for social workers and managers to oversee the complex social worker training programme

·   There was good recruitment for level 5 posts internally who were appointed but more external candidates were wanted. They wanted to do less casework and more social work education. This was a problem because of the demand

·   There was a lot of ongoing activity with the Strategic Workforce Group who have a comprehensive plan that looks at recruitment and retention. WCC received an investment, and they appointed a person within children and families and next year they need to identify how they will sustain that level of activity once they have returned to a more generic service

·   WCC needs to provide more opportunities for a dedicated social work programme for experienced social workers and have the capacity for them to attend that training for their progression through a centralised appraisal process

·   There was a social work apprentice scheme where WCC grows their own social workers. It has five apprentices over a three-year course. Some complete this and they are continuing to roll it out alongside other national schemes

·   They started the commissioning of recruiting 25 social workers from abroad to work for Warwickshire by doing some targeted work about people who want to relocate and remain in the UK

·   The development framework will be reviewed for family support workers and they were offering more training and mentoring around practice supervisors who work with social worker students

·   They planned to keep supporting these students so they can advance their career by working for Warwickshire

·   The Academy will offer social workers in family facing roles the opportunity to engage in research and contribute to social work education regionally. They will develop a performance dashboard to see what difference the academy made in terms of social work progression, CPD days etc.

·   Celebrating successes was important so often letters and emails of appreciation were sent by the leadership team recognising their work. This was also done with awards

·   A Wellbeing Day was introduced so social workers could have a selfcare day. There was also counselling support and coaching on life improvement


In response to the Chair, Jo Davies said that local authorities who did retain their social workers did so because they offered large financial incentives. John Coleman added that a review into this showed the social care market was not working because these local authority incentives. WCC avoided them because social workers did not stay if they were being more money elsewhere. The review recommended that the DfE implement a national pay structure. The DfE will publish their response to the review in December 2022 and it was believed they would implement this pay structure. WCC had less agency staff then the national average but this was expensive (£20,000 more than a normal social worker) but this went to the agency not the social worker.   


In response to Councillor Morgan, Jo Davies said a six-day training programme was implemented for team leaders to support the person they supervised and help understand the children they were supervising too. They were also given coaching sessions in their progression as a team leader.


Councillor Gilbert suggested some financial discretions to maintain good social workers. He expressed his concern with the idea of a national pay grade because of the difficulty of the job role in being a social worker. In response to Councillor Gilbert, John Coleman said their priority was to provide the flexibility for internal staff members to progress and have discussions with them on how to do this. However, they wanted to show experienced social workers that they could advance and not need to step away into a managerial role. Most people leave the authority because they are leaving the social worker profession altogether (Covid-19 accelerated this nationally) or to be an agency social worker (even though this was more difficult). The increased cost of living added to the difficulty of retention. Jo Davies added that some social workers left and returned to WCC.


In response to Councillor Beetham, John Coleman stated that agency social workers cost the authority £2.6 million in 2021; WCC was working with an agency who specialise in recruiting social workers from abroad and this would cost £125,000 for 25 social workers, plus salary. The agency trains them on UK legislation and supports them to relocate to Warwickshire. There will be 25 social workers over two years. When advertising job roles in Warwickshire, a lot of applications come from South Africa and it was difficult to carry out background checks for international applications. This had been done twice successfully without the agency. The Wellbeing Day is a day where the social worker does something for the community e.g. volunteering at Dogs Trust, planting trees etc. WCC oversee this so they know what they do on the day. 


In response to Councillor Hammersley, Jo Davies informed that it took between one to three years to get a social worker qualification with the option to get an additional masters in two years. Once qualified that have one year where they learn on the job and are assessed and supported. At the end of this year they have a portfolio defined by Social Work England that says whether they met the standards to become a experienced social worker (level 3). WCC’s aim is to advance this with training and an assessment period with courses that would lead to a salary increase. Requirements are defined by Social Work England about what different levels of social workers are required and there is a new standard on being qualified for more than five years in a programme, but details were not available on this yet. There was proactive succession planning with WCC being encouraged for student social workers to work at and continue their career in.

John Coleman added that there were 68 social worker vacancies in WCC and 36 were agency staff. There are always 30-40 vacancies


Following a question from Councillor Humphreys, Jo Davies stated that there was there was an emphasis on CBD training especially through the Academy. They were looking at getting sustainable funding for the academy and they had a dedicated pot of money to use for leaders and practitioners to attend training events. WCC is also part of the West Midlands Regional Teaching Partnership to work with universities to support social work education in the region. There were monthly supervisions with team leaders to ensure they were doing the right thing.


Councillor Roodhouse noted that the BI dashboard should help with greater transparency with how the team was doing, especially with the Academy. There could be something internal within the Academy to monitor its progress. In response to Councillor Roodhouse, Jo Davies stated that the ‘5+’ was a new measurement of how long somebody had been a social worker for. The Academy do a mixture of roles because there had been limited experienced social workers in the teams it supported with individual casework, doing assessments, supporting social workers etc. As the teams grow, the Academy will do less of this. The aim was for the Academy to be solely focused on training, based on what the workforce needed. John Coleman added that the apprenticeship scheme was successful in hiring and retaining different kinds of social workers. The Academy needed to be developed to become more multi-disciplinary, so everyone was equally focused on.

Following a supplementary from Councillor Roodhouse, John Coleman stated that colleges were worked with for the apprenticeships as well as schools for people who want to be social workers. Career advancement was a good way to maintain student social workers. The ‘5+’ years measurement was brought in because one possible recommendation of the care review was that only social workers who were qualified for five or more could deal with child protection cases which would put a lot of pressure on WCC and other local authorities nationally.


In response to Councillor Barker, John Coleman said they made their good pension scheme public, but most social workers hired were aged between 25-35 so they were not focused on their pension. Agency social workers had no pension or protection covers e.g. sick pay.

Following a supplementary from Councillor Barker, John Coleman confirmed there was an option for sabbaticals and three social workers abroad said they planned to return to WCC if they returned to the UK. 


In response to Councillor Justin Kerridge, Jo Davies said they were aiming to improve diversity in the workforce with the HR team. Recruitment videos were doing showing the diverse workforce. John Coleman added that he wanted to do something similar to what the police cadets do by working with young people who may want to become social workers.


In response to Councillor Brown, John Coleman noted that the demand for services had increased so they tried in increase Early Help staff to resolve this problem so family could get help earlier on. There were strategies to move resources around these areas and adapt to increasing caseloads.

Following a supplementary from Councillor Brown, John Coleman stated that they had multi agency teams cross county. They either had a mental health, domestic abuse, and or substance misuse worker; North Warwickshire’s team recently got a child psychologist. The Youth Justice team had probation workers too. The National Care Review said that all agencies should join a council-led coalition based in children’s services. The multi-agency teams had reduced children in care by 1/3 because parents had been given early access to mental health help.


In response to Councillor Gilbert, John Coleman stated that the National Care Review suggested a regional bank of social workers, but this was attempted before and it was an expensive failure for the local authorities involved. Nigel Minns added that 15% of the country’s social workers were agency staff because they get paid more. He stated it would be more beneficial of there were pay grade restrictions for agency staff. If there was a bank it could be possible to recruit permanent staff from.


Councillor Seccombe noted that finances would need to be focus on and at the time there was not enough staff for this bank. She suggested that working with the voluntary sector could help with this.