Social worker recruitment: A game of marginal gains

Jenny Turnross
Monday, May 16, 2022

I am sure that the West Midlands is no different to any other region, in that recruitment and retention seems to be our number one topic of conversation.

Jenny Turnross is director of practice at Birmingham’s Children’s Trust. Picture: Birmingham Children's Trust
Jenny Turnross is director of practice at Birmingham’s Children’s Trust. Picture: Birmingham Children's Trust

However, it does seem that momentum is building towards this becoming a national debate. I, like others, warmly welcome the words of Steve Crocker in his inaugural speech as ADCS president, and I echo his sentiment regarding the agency market and the impact that ‘managed teams’ are having on our regional and national workforces.

The agency market, of course, is just part of this complex issue. There are numerous reasons why workers enter the locum market, and for many, maybe even most, it is not always about the money. It seems that there is a growing anxiety about committing to employers and we have a responsibility to understand what that is about.

Our ambition, in the West Midlands, is to build a regional workforce who feel supported, valued and cared for. By doing so we aim to bring stability for the children and families whom we work with. 

Last year, aided by funding from our Building Back Better bid, we set about trying to find the magic answer, of course knowing that we are in it for the long game as there are no instant answers. That said, and maybe fittingly, for a year when our region plays host to the Commonwealth Games, there is much to learn from the sporting principle of marginal gains. So, for example, we are taking a closer look at our wellbeing offer and considering ways that we can be more consistent across each of our local authority areas; we are exploring ways we can raise the profile of the children’s workforce in our region; and thinking about how we might use our allied staff to take some of the workload off of our social workers.

In short, what we are trying to achieve is fourteen caring and responsive children’s services departments, that work together to attract the best talent out there to our region and offer stability to both our workers and the families they support. Our problem is, even if we find staffing Utopia, it’s quite likely that every other region will too and if all 152 local authority areas get there, the bottom line is, there simply are not enough sufficiently experienced professionals to fill the posts available. It is quite possible, therefore, that as ambitious as we think we are, we are not being ambitious enough!

Might it be that we accept that staff move on, and so we actually support this. We encourage workers to try new roles, in different areas. One day they might come back, saying “I’ve got that experience now, let me share it with you”. Should we consider intra-regional secondments, or set up our own “project teams” sent out from our best local authorities to support those who need a little support? Brave? Definitely, but innovative, aspirational and truly ambitious.

Whilst marginal gains are important and will serve to make us all the best employers we possibly can be, after all none of us would want anything different, the conversation needs to be bigger. So, the new ADCS President has set out his vision but let us all treat his words as a call to arms, let’s make sure in every conversation that we have with Ofsted, with the DfE, with our local politicians that training, recruiting and retaining a quality children’s workforce is front and centre of the agenda. After all, it’s nothing more than the children of this country deserve.

Jenny Turnross is director of practice at Birmingham Children’s Trust and co-vice-chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) West Midlands Region. This blog was first published on the ADCS website.

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