An urgent review of the ‘skills crisis' facing social work is needed to help recruit the quality social workers that 1.3 million vulnerable young people need into work as soon as possible.
Despite £65 million being spent every year by central government on ‘social worker grants', which are aimed at getting people into the profession, councils across the country are facing an urgent skills crisis, with almost three quarters struggling to recruit and retain enough social workers.
It comes as the need for social workers is at an all-time high, with 1.3 million of the country's most vulnerable people relying on social services to keep them safe last year. A spate of high profile child protection scandals has also meant councils have received 10 per cent more referrals to protect children deemed at risk of harm in the past five years.
The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is calling on government to urgently tackle the issue and put social work on a par with other health and social care professions.
The calls come as social care experts from around the country meet today at the largest annual social care conference in the country, the National Children and Adults Services conference (NCASC). The LGA will today (Thursday 30 October 2014) launch a support pack to help councils' efforts in recruiting and retaining social workers. The pack will include best practice examples on issues that social workers say matter to them most.
Under the current scheme money is allocated to higher education colleges to fund entry level courses. But councils leaders are concerned that the lack of a vetting process to assess suitable candidates means the course don't always attract the very best candidates, with no guarantees that people will complete the course or go on to work in the sector.
Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: "With tens of millions of pounds currently spent on grants for social work trainees with no assurance that they will find their way into any of the many vacancies around the country, we need to get smarter and ensure that these resources are available to councils who can act more flexibly to respond to local need.
"In many areas career development for existing social workers and recruiting experienced managers are higher priorities than getting more people through social work courses. With 60 per cent of children's services departments reporting rising recruitment challenges and a 50 per cent rise in the number of referrals to children's social services, we need to use all available resources in the most effective manner so that we have a workforce fit for the challenges our society faces in keeping children safe and giving them a fresh start when things go wrong at home."
Following the Baby Peter scandal, LGA research found that 60 per cent of councils had problems retaining staff, a 50 per cent increase on the previous year. In the same research social workers said they had been "run through the mill" and criticised unduly, something which was causing many to consider leaving the profession.
Local government leaders argue that social work must be a desirable occupation which provides opportunities for a rewarding and fulfilling career with good career development opportunities. This should be in line with the health profession which has received significant government investment in career development. The right investment in social workers needs to ensure they achieve the same respect and reverence as health workers, such as doctors and nurses. Similarly, this needs to start with an overhaul in the image of social workers in line with the vital job that they do.