CONCERNED: Financial strain as council employs agency social workers on £32 an hour
Redcar and Cleveland Council is struggling to recruit experienced childrens' social workers, Image: Teesside Live
A council leader has expressed disquiet over a forecast £1.89m overspend on children’s services as it emerged some agency social workers were being paid up to £32 an hour.
Mary Lanigan, the leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, said she was concerned at the forecast overspend in its children and families department and it needed to be addressed.
A council report updating the council’s financial position for the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year said £650,000 from the forecast related to difficulties in recruiting social workers to permanent positions.
This meant there was a reliance on agency social workers and paying existing social workers overtime to support delivery of children’s social care services.
The council has now adopted a ‘recruit a friend’ policy which will be piloted over the next 12 months as part of a package of measures in relation to the recruitment and retention of social workers to try and help with hard-to-recruit roles.
Council staff who refer someone they know for a job who are subsequently successfully employed will receive £500 cash.
Councillor Alison Barnes, the cabinet member for children’s services, said the incentive seemed like a lot of money, but agency social workers brought in to bolster services were being paid between £27 and £32 an hour in some instances.
Cllr Lanigan said: “I can understand why agency staff remain agency staff on those rates.”
Cllr Barnes said the council had achieved some success in having social workers cross over from being agency to full-time employees.
She also said the local authority was working with Teesside University in a bid to train up more qualified social workers and it was hoped they could be persuaded to come to Redcar and Cleveland.
Without support from agency workers the council would have more than 15 full-time equivalent roles needing to be filled, impacting on its statutory responsibilities to safeguard vulnerable children and young people.
Councillor Julie Craig, the cabinet member for neighbourhoods, highways and transport asked Cllr Barnes if there was a specific reason why the council was struggling to recruit social workers.
She replied: “We are in competition with so many other local authorities and there is a limited supply [of social workers].
“Demand is very high in this area and certain authorities are offering a lot more money than we are.”
Cllr Barnes cited Sunderland Council who she said were offering social workers the equivalent of a team manager’s salary.
Kathryn Boulton, the council’s director of children and families services, said the council had in fact quite a good record recruiting new social workers, but it was the more experienced staff that were being sought.
A ‘focused assurance’ visit in February by education watchdog Ofsted, which inspected the department, said improvements were required in respect of the high caseload being faced by existing social workers in the borough.
Ofsted said the situation was impacting on their ability to work their best, although social workers were generally well supported and had their welfare taken into account.
It said: “Leaders are fully aware of this issue and are attempting to increase overall staffing levels so that caseloads can become more manageable.”
Ms Boulton previously said of caseloads: “It is not dangerous, it is manageable, but it means they [social workers] don’t always have as much time as we would want to be able to work with children and families to bring about the process that we are looking for.”
Last year a report which briefed members of the council’s children and families scrutiny and improvement committee predicted an “unparalleled surge” in demand for childrens’ social work as schools re-opened following covid-19 lockdowns.
It said: “This is an area of significant concern, as caseloads are already higher than we would like and above the average levels nationally, at [approximately] 26 cases per full time social worker, compared to a recommended number of around 20 per worker.”
Words: Stuart Arnold, Local Democracy Reporter
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