Concerns grow as spend on agency staff in children's social care rockets 74%

Labour councillors have expressed concerns about the crisis in recruitment and retention of children's social workers after hearing that spend on agency staff has rocketed by 74 per cent in the last year. They have asked for the Children's, Education, Libraries & Safeguarding Committee (CELS) to urgently look at these issues.

Information presented at the Performance and Contract Management Committee (PCM) this week (31 May) also showed that the vacancy rate in children’s social care is above the London average and the percentage of children’s social workers who are agency workers is above the London average.

The quarterly monitoring report stated that “Challenges around quality and consistency of social work practice have been compounded by difficulties recruiting to social work posts and increasing levels of demand at the social care front door.”

The risk summary stated that “if there were a significant children’s safeguarding incident then the commissioning council approach may be destabilised and undermined”.

The Family Services Quality Assurance report for last year showed that 90 per cent of social care case work was judged to be either 'inadequate' or 'requires improvement'. Councillors had agreed in June last year to pay a market factor supplement within the Family Services Delivery Unit to help address recruitment and retention issues utilising £492,370 of reserves, but this doesn't seem to have had much impact.

Labour councillors have asked that the CELS Committee should look into the wider issues that affect recruitment and retention of staff including the lack of affordable housing and the increasing cost of renting, as well as whether the Family Services budget is adequate.

Labour's recommendation was accepted by the PCM Committee.

Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Barry Rawlings said: "The ongoing recruitment and retention problems are very worrying. Children's social care needs consistent, high quality staff in order to carry out its duties towards Looked After Children and where there are child protection concerns. When there is a high turnover of staff and reliance on agency social workers it is impossible to provide a quality service. This is why I have asked the Children's committee to have a more in-depth review of the situation and take action."

Ends.

Notes:

1. A copy of Cllr Rawlings motion at Performance & Contract Management Committee follows:

 "Q4 monitoring (PCM) - Family Services & Children’s social care:

Recommendation to CELS – Cllr Barry Rawlings

There are issues raised in reports on tonight’s agenda about the adequacy/consistency of work in children’s social care and related staffing issues – including recruitment and retention and use of agency staff. For example, reports tonight show that the vacancy rate in children’s social care is above the London average, the % of children’s social workers who are agency workers is above the London average, and the percentage of spend on agency staff in children’s social care has increased by 74% in 2015/16 (p67 – para 1.18).

The quarterly monitoring report states on p50 that “Challenges around quality and consistency of social work practice have been compounded by difficulties recruiting to social work posts and increasing levels of demand at the social care front door.”

The risk summary on tonight’s agenda – (table 20 on p81 – reputational ORG0040) – says that “if there were a significant children’s safeguarding incident then the commissioning council approach may be destabilised and undermined”.

These performance issues are of great concern, as they follow similar issues being reported a year ago, for example in the last Annual Safeguarding report of a year ago, and it seems they have still not been dealt with. At the 23 June General Functions meeting the committee agreed a market factor supplement within the Family Services Delivery Unit to address recruitment and retention issues – utilising £492,370 of reserves. This shows that just three months after the budget had been set it was found to be inadequate to meet demand.

Last year at a Health & Wellbeing Board meeting the Chair of Barnet’s Safeguarding Children Board said that if the council were inspected now they would probably be deemed ‘inadequate’.

The Annual Safeguarding Board report is not due until September, and these issues have a wider impact on Family Services in the immediate future, so it is vital that CELS considers these issues as a matter of urgency including the wider issues impacting on recruitment and retention like housing and the relocation of the council’s offices, whether wider council strategies and decisions are impacting adversely on these issues eg. whether the budget increase for demand in children’s social care is sufficient, and whether children’s social care needs an additional injection of funds in the short-term.

Recommendation: I therefore ask that these issues are considered by the next CELS committee."

2. A copy of the quarterly performance reports at PCM this week can be found here (Agenda Item 8): http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=693&MId=8412&Ver=4

3. A copy of the Family Services Quality Assurance report can be found here (See Appendix A, p15 - table in para 2.1): http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=697&MId=8258&Ver=4

4. Reference to the vacancy rate and the % of children's social workers who are agency workers can be found at the bottom of p6 of the following bench marking report:

For more information contact Cllr Barry Rawlings: cllr.b.rawlings@barnet.gov.uk

To contact the Barnet Labour Group: 020 8359 2568

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