Northants County Council reduces use of agency social workers

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A Social Work Academy is helping Northamptonshire County Council to retain permanent social workers and reduce its reliance on expensive agency staff.

The council has reduced its proportion of agency staff from 45 per cent to 29 per cent in the past 12 months.

The council says that while agency staff can play a vital role in filling vacant social worker posts, it has been working hard to increase its proportion of permanent staff in order to provide better continuity of care for vulnerable children and families.

The number of permanent social work staff has increased from 202 last January to 248 in December, while the number of agency staff in social work roles has fallen from 210 to 144.

This has been attributed to ongoing recruitment campaigns, including an overseas recruitment programme, as well as a scheme to encourage costly agency staff to convert to permanent social workers.

The conversion scheme has seen 34 agency staff become permanent.

Cllr Matthew Golby, county council deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services, said: “The reliance on expensive agency staff is an issue faced by all local authorities across the country, but here in Northamptonshire we have been working really hard to create a more stable workforce with a greater proportion of permanent staff.

“We know that families want to build trusting relationships with their social worker and that isn’t always possible with agency staff on shorter-term contracts.

“The reduction in our agency worker rate is fantastic news and testament to the hard work of our director of children’s services and her team.”

The council says its Social Work Academy is also having a positive impact on the permanence of the children’s services workforce, and is now working with its sixth intake of students.

The academy, which launched in October 2014 to recruit the best-quality social workers from universities, offers graduates reduced caseloads, hands-on learning, high levels of support and mentoring, and extensive training and qualification opportunities.

Northamptonshire director of children’s services Lesley Hagger said: “It’s important to say that all of our social workers, whether permanent or agency, are committed to delivering a high quality service.

“As part of our children’s services improvement programme which began in 2013, we filled vacancies with agency staff in the short term. But now those improvements are being fully embedded, it’s only right that we have a more permanent and stable workforce.

“I’m delighted that so many of our existing agency staff took the opportunity to convert to permanent as it shows they are committed to being a part of our ongoing improvement and development, and working with us to support the most vulnerable children and families in Northamptonshire.”