Thursday 23 May 2024
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Jobs market for social workers ‘broken’, says council children’s services head

The leader of Nottinghamshire County Council’s children’s services says the jobs market for social workers is “broken” amid a nationwide recruitment and retention problem.

Ofsted inspectors visited the authority in April to look at the council’s arrangements for children in need or those subject to a child protection plan.

During the visit inspectors found that, while children are being “supported at the right level of need”, the direction of visits is “not always sufficiently focused, time-bound or detailed”.

They also found quality of care plans are “varied” and sometimes “lack precision and do not allow for meaningful measurement of progress”.

The visit itself plays no part in the department’s wider Ofsted grading, which is ‘good’ overall following a 2019 inspection.

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But inspectors said there were some “missed opportunities” to use wider family support of children to protect and help children in the authority’s care.

A full inspection will be carried out towards the end of 2023.

The report was discussed by the children and young people’s select committee on Monday, October 10.

Colin Pettigrew, Corporate Director, Children, Families and Cultural Services, said staffing problems were hampering progress, and said a local authority around 40 miles from Nottinghamshire is currently advertising for agency social workers at a rate of up to £57 an hour, meaning they would be earning £93,600 a year.

He disucssed how this can impact neighouring authorities’ ability to recruit – because some people may be willing to commute in order to earn more money.

Mr Pettigrew also referenced a neighbouring council’s recent ‘inadequate’ inspection for children’s services, which could mean the authority hikes up pay to attract more staff.

Nottingham City Council’s children’s services were recently deemed to be inadequate by Ofsted after an inspection in July.

Mr Pettigrew said during the meeting: “We, like every other local authority in the country, are facing major challenges in both recruiting and retaining social workers.

“The market, frankly, is broken.

“We are recruiting social workers but they tend to be very new. We have a reputation for being a good, permanent employer, but we are struggling to retain social workers because of the dynamics of the market currently.

“I start my 40th year this week working in children’s social care and I have never seen it at this level.

“When a local authority finds itself in a poor place, one of the ways that local authority will act is to make sure it brings caseloads down and has more social workers.

“Those local authorities that find themselves in difficulty are paying significant premiums to attract social workers.

“I am conscious that a neighbouring local authority has just recently had an Ofsted inspection that judged it to be inadequate.

“That will have an impact upon the dynamic of the market more closely.”

Councillor Anne Callaghan (Lab) said: “The report does highlight some improvements which is good, however there are still some concerns.

“My question is, if we’ve had a management plan to address concerns since the 2019 report, why haven’t we seen some improvements?”

Amanda Collinson, Service Director, Help, Care and Protection, said: “It’s important to say they also found some strengths.

“One of our challenges has been being consistent, in some places, we have a really good service and in other places, it’s possibly not as good as we want it to be.

“Our focus is now on consistent practice.”

The council confirmed it has an action plan to address the recommendations and improve the quality of its service.

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