Birmingham struggles to overcome social worker shortage

By Joe Lepper

| 13 March 2015

Birmingham City Council's beleaguered children's services department is struggling to halt a social worker recruitment crisis, with a third of posts still vacant.

Birmingham Council has agreed to invest £21m in children's services in 2015/16

Latest figures to be presented in a report to Birmingham Council’s cabinet next week (16 March) show that at the end of January this year, there were 161 vacant permanent child protection social work posts, with all but one covered by agency staff.

This represents a third of the total frontline children's social worker workforce of 485 full-time equivalent posts.

Until more permanent staff can be employed, the council is looking to ensure it can attract high calibre, experienced agency staff by raising agency rates. The cabinet is to vote on a plan to invest £1.6m into boosting agency rates.

This latest move follows the announcement earlier this month that the department will have its budget increased by £21m in 2015/16.

Extra investment was a key recommendation in a recent report by Lord Warner, the independent children’s commissioner appointed by the government to turnaround the department, who criticised Birmingham’s social worker recruitment and retention strategy.

Warner said that £123m was needed over the next three years to deliver sustained improvement to the department, which was rated as "inadequate" by Ofsted last May.

Councillor Brigid Jones, Birmingham’s cabinet member for children and family services, says 98 new recruits were taken on between March and December 2014.

In addition, existing staff members have been asked to “to take on more responsibility and increase their contribution”, says Jones.

“However, we still need agency staff to ensure everyone has manageable caseloads. Of course this means paying them a rate that compares favourably with other West Midlands authorities,” she added.
 
The report to cabinet also reveals that the number of vacancies has risen over the past year – in March 2014, there were 127 vacancies. However, the report points out that during the 2014/15 financial year, there was additional investment for 44 new posts, including four managers.

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