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Can’t get one for love nor money

‘Can’t get one for love nor money’. This is a phrase frequently used by senior managers attempting to recruit children’s social workers particularly in the front door and safeguarding teams. Hardly surprising for a profession under such regular scrutiny from the media (and Ofsted) and dealing with increasingly higher case-loads - one could almost question the sanity of those choosing to take up this challenging but hugely important role. As our Adults Operational Director recently commented in relation to the ‘image’ of social work – when Channel 4 launch a ‘comedy’ featuring those working in a fictional children’s services department the lead is played by Jo Brand and not Sarah Lancashire.

In the North West region I am proud to work with a group of directors of children’s services (DCSs) who promote a very strong collegiate ethos many of whom regularly go well out of their way to support colleagues across the region – but even this strong relationship has been tested in regard to securing a stable workforce. We have, like many other regions, agreed a consistent approach to how we commission agencies in an attempt to keep rates down (I was tempted to call this blog ‘social worker agency fees – a race to the top’) but with our colleagues from Ofsted so busy in the region its hardly surprising that under pressure from the public, politicians, the media and others on occasion a DCS has to do what they need to in order to dig themselves out of trouble.

Like others in the region in my authority we are implementing, and investing in, a new recruitment and retention strategy to encourage more social workers to choose to work and to stay working for the council. This in times of continued austerity can be a hard sell, but ultimately as has been proven many times – key to achieving better outcomes for children and their families is a quality and stable workforce.

When we ask those joining our team (or those leaving) why they are choosing to do so we find that in some cases they are moving to work for more money or leaving to work for an agency (on a lot more) but we also talk about things like caseloads, amount/quality of supervision, effectiveness of ICT, commitment to training, CPD and time for reflection. The solution then to challenging the shortage of social workers and reducing our reliance on agencies is training more staff, growing our own and truly valuing the profession and those who take up the challenge.

In Warrington we recently held a ‘celebrating social work’ event for all our adults and children’s social workers. Senior managers and myself opened the event by thanking all of our staff for their commitment and the massive difference they make to people’s lives every day, we had some brave people stand up and share some cases and learning and we were also fortunate to have the Chief Social Worker – Isabelle Trowler as a guest speaker. We finished with a social work quiz, as ever people could pick a team name – the winners decided to call themselves ‘saving money not lives’, a dig at myself for recently questioning spend on high cost placements. We know that being valued is absolutely critical to recruit and retain a stable workforce but yes we also need a sense of humour to get us through the day!

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