Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Survey adds to call for a rethink of curbs on social workers - REC

Four in ten children’s social workers who work as temps through agencies have told REC that they will leave the profession entirely if proposed government reforms go ahead. They predict the impact of the plans will see colleagues quit and children receive worse care.

An increasing number of children’s social workers want to work through agencies because of the flexibility, better rates of pay and more frequent payment. There are around 6,800 agency workers in children’s social care services, according to Department for Education (DfE). But the government wants to save money by making it less attractive and harder for social workers to work through agencies. 

Among the government’s plans for England are to only engage agency workers within nationally agreed price caps from Spring 2024. They also propose that social workers who graduated in or after April 2024 should demonstrate a minimum of five years post-qualified experience working within local authority children’s social care before they can take on an agency appointment. Not engaging agency workers for a period of three months after they have left a substantive role within the same region, are also planned. 

Kate Shoesmith, REC Deputy Chief Executive, said:

“The survey adds to our call on government to fundamentally review these proposals. Social workers turn to agencies primarily to help them manage their work/life balance. We need to recognise the reasons why social workers make this choice and then we, the recruitment sector, will happily work with government and others on better solutions than the ones in this consultation. As experts in workforce planning, recruitment and retention strategies, it’s what our members do for several other clients across both the public and private sectors every day.  

“The loss of agency staff in anything like the proportion indicated by this survey will give vulnerable children even less chance of getting the care they need.  

“Half of the agency workers who responded and said that these reforms would make them leave the profession, are over 46 years old. This is a blow to a government that is keen to retain over 50s in the workforce to help overcome labour shortages and grow the economy.” 

While the sample size responding to this survey was small, this was a significant poll because it asked specific questions about the DfE reforms and captured instant feedback from frontline children’s social workers.  

The survey also found 40% of surveyed temporary children’s social workers said they are unable to take on a permanent, full-time position even if they had to. And it revealed a serious concern about regional balance and capped rates, with 73% of surveyed temporary children’s social workers saying they will avoid seeking roles in hard-to-reach areas.