Consultation launches on statutory guidance for council use of agency social workers

Fiona Simpson
Thursday, February 1, 2024

The Department for Education has launched a four-week consultation on new statutory guidance for the use of agency social workers by local authority children’s services.

The consultation seeks views on guidance around the use of project teams. Picture: Adobe Stock
The consultation seeks views on guidance around the use of project teams. Picture: Adobe Stock

The consultation seeks sector views on draft guidance for the engagement of agency social workers by councils following a series of recommendations made in the Care Review around curtailing their use.

The guidance bans local authorities from using agency social workers with less than three-years post-qualifying experience or those who have left the local authority or a neighbouring council during the previous three months.

It also increases the notice period of agency social workers to align with that of local authority social workers amid concerns from the sector that agency staff could leave a post with as little as one-weeks’ notice.

The guidance focuses on rules around the employment of so-called project teams by councils which can include a number of social workers and a social work manager.

An investigation by CYP Now, which was cited in the government’s response to the Care Review, found a 10-fold rise in agency teams being used by local authorities in the five years to 2022, amounting to a total cost of £41.1m across all councils.

In its response to the Care Review, DfE pledged to ban the use of project teams but rowed back on plans for an outright ban as part of a public consultation on workforce reforms published in October last year.

The draft guidance states that councils should “ensure all contractual arrangements to supply agency child and family social workers via a project team or other packaged model comply with the following requirements”:

  • prior identification and local authority approval of all constituent child and family social workers;

  • disaggregation of costs related to the provision of each child and family social worker and any other service provided;

  • governance arrangements that allow the local authority to maintain complete oversight and control of social work practice delivered via the arrangement.

The consultation also seeks views on a duty on councils to “work within their region to agree and implement agency child and family social worker price caps that all local authorities within the region should comply with”.

If passed, the guidance is set to come into force this autumn.

John Pearce, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: “ADCS has long been calling for coordinated, national action to help manage the agency social work market so that it works for local authorities and, even more crucially, children.

“The costs associated with the use of agency social workers and project teams have risen sharply in recent years at a time when local authority finances are in turmoil.

“We are pleased the government has a plan to address the challenges we face and it is positive that the timetable for implementing change has been accelerated.  We support the plan to move at pace and implement the statutory guidance at the earliest possible opportunity; we cannot afford to stand still. I encourage all councils to respond to this consultation so that we can get this right for the children and families we work with by implementing the proposed changes.”

The consultation closes on 28 February. Evidence can be submitted here.

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