Children's social care worker with a disabled child

Survey outlines serious challenges despite passion for children's social care

London Councils has announced that a major survey of the children’s social workers has highlighted that the vast majority of the workforce are passionate about their jobs, however there are serious challenges to be faced.

The survey in question, the Big Listen project, generated more than 1,000 responses from 52 local authorities across London and the south east of England and was organised to try and improve the understanding of children’s social workers’ views, and their priorities. This is the equivalent of 8% of the estimated 12,700 children’s social workers in the two regions, with councils across those areas combined employing more than a third of the 31,600 children’s social workers under the employment of local authorities around England.

Positively, the survey discovered that 88% of the respondents agree or strongly agree that their work allows them to make a difference to children and young people, whilst the majority (60%) also felt valued within their roles.

London Councils’ Executive Member for Children and Young People, Cllr Ian Edwards, said:

“The Big Listen has provided us with vital insight. Carrying out the research across the two regions has undoubtedly brought many benefits and presents a good model for future cooperation.

“We’re grateful to all those who shared their views as part of the Big Listen. Now we’re determined to show that those views have been heard as we develop our workforce strategy.”

Despite the positive responses, the research offered the opportunity to gather fresh evidence about existing and longstanding workforce challenges. Almost 40% of the respondents said that their workload is unmanageable, whilst 20% of the participants that are employed by local authorities stated that they have future intentions of moving to work for an agency.

Alongside the workload concerns, the report also found that ethnic minority social workers have a distinctly negative experience. Focus groups and surveys that were organised through the Big Listen found that racism and discrimination were recurring themes during research. Social workers that are from ethnic minority backgrounds and employed by local authorities also stated that they would consider leaving their posts to work for an agency instead, however this was mainly due to the cost of living, as opposed to workload.

The issue of recruitment and retention when it comes to social workers has been a challenge for a long time, but the research points to signs that the situation is actually getting worse. The number of children’s social workers employed by local authorities decreased in 2022, for the first time in five years, with vacancies increasing by 21% and the use of agency growing by 13%. With this in mind, local authorities in London and the south east of England are committed to collaborating to improve the situation. This can be done by reducing competition of recruitment, as well as addressing retention rates.

Mac Heath, Director of Children’s Services at Milton Keynes and Workforce Policy Lead for the South East Region, added:

“It is encouraging to have confirmation that many of the workers spoken to as part of the Big Listen were positive about their role as local authority employees, feeling that they were able and supported to make real improvements for the children, families, and communities they work with.

“However, there are key messages that we must listen to. We are committed to working together as councils at local, regional, and national levels to help retain and recruit the high-quality people we need.”


Image credit: iStock


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