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Council plan to cheer up ‘tired’ Birmingham social workers with cheap housing and extra holidays

Council plan to cheer up ‘tired’ Birmingham social workers with cheap housing and extra holidays

🕔12.Nov 2014

Children’s social workers could be offered subsidised housing, extra holidays and free parking in an effort to persuade them to work for Birmingham city council.

The perks package is part of a strategy to stem the flood of staff queuing up to leave, with increasing numbers of social workers resigning and finding work elsewhere as soon as they have been trained.

With the city’s “inadequate” children’s social care department in its sixth year of Government special measures, the turnover of disgruntled trained social workers is at a record high.

  • Just over half of the 610 social work posts at the council are filled. The remainder are either vacant or are covered by agency workers, at considerable financial cost.
  • The UK average length of stay in a job for a children’s social worker is eight years. In Birmingham the average is four to five years. Just over a third of the workforce has less than two years’ service.
  • The council has a target to ensure that 75 per cent of the workforce is senior social workers. The actual figure is 45 per cent.

The turnover rate for team leaders is 42 per cent and an entire cohort left the council last year following a trawl for voluntary redundancies. Those remaining have less than two years leadership experience and have not had any support to develop their managerial skills, according to a recruitment and retention analysis.

The study by consultants TMP Worldwide says that years of upheaval and senior management restructures at the council have left senior social workers “battered, bruised and fatigued” with a sense of cynicism that major new initiatives take place before the previous changes have been allowed to deliver.

The report warns: “Without some urgent and decisive action, Birmingham’s children will not get the benefits of stability in the services they receive. Both the aim of establishing a high performing and stable workforce and the aim of providing safer children’s service will remain at risk because of the high turnover and the high vacancy rate and the failure to retain suitably qualified and experienced employees.”

About 60 per cent of social workers who responded to a survey said they didn’t see themselves still working for Birmingham council in three years’ time. For managers the figure was 70 per cent.

Heavy caseloads, long hours and poor pay are the reasons most often given for moving on.

Birmingham is successful at attracting trainee social workers, but cannot retain them once they are fully trained according to the study.

There have been 292 new starters since January 2013. However, the number of children’s social workers leaving since that point is larger and there is evidence that the net outflow is also beginning to accelerate with turnover rates reaching 27 per cent a month earlier in the year.

In the last quarter to September 2014, the overall vacancy rate for children’s social workers was 25.7 per cent compared to 24 per cent for the same period last year. Turnover for the city council as a whole to September 2014 was 11.5%.

The consultants’ report states: “Newly qualified children’s Social Workers do not stay with the council beyond their initial years in employment to move into more senior roles. Instead they move on and other councils benefit from their experience; for Birmingham this creates further capacity issues for caseload, supervision and driving practice improvement.

“Team manager capacity to fulfil its critical leadership role is hindered by two factors. Firstly the turnover at this level has been extraordinarily high at 42 per cent following a legacy restructuring where a whole cohort of experienced team managers left the organisation following a redundancy exercise.

“The majority of the remaining cohort has less than two years leadership experience in the team manager role and have not had any organisational support to develop the managerial and leadership skills. In addition, the lack of capacity in the system to manage cases as a whole results in the team manager cohort taking on additional caseload leaving still less capacity for the vital leadership and management, practice improvement and supervision role.”

A proposal to subsidise housing costs for social workers as well as offering additional holiday and free car parking has not yet been approved by council leaders and Lord Norman Warner, the Government-appointed Children’s Commissioner who is overseeing an improvement plan.

There are thought to be concerns about the legality of such an approach. The council already offers enhanced wage rates in an effort to attract and retain social work staff and is committed to a £3,000 a year personal development budget to help children’s social workers progress.

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