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Local authorities respond to BASW’s State of Social Work survey

Among the 17 local authorities to respond to BASW’s State of Social Work survey at the time of going to press, many accepted that social workers were under pressure, particularly in children’s services, but emphasised local efforts to ensure their own staff were better protected.

Responding on behalf of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, Martin Farran, the Executive Director of Adults & Communities, said he “wouldn’t disagree with the issues raised” before outlining why “the majority of them don’t reflect the situation in Barnsley”, where “morale seems generally high and we have no current recruitment and retention issues”. Mr Farran said some of the issues would be addressed through the work of the Social Work Reform Board, and that the caseloads of newly qualified social workers were already being protected in Barnsley through the Assessed Year in Employment initiative.

At Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, however, the assistant director of Adult Social Care, Pat Higgs, was more ready to accept most of the findings as a sad reality. “In the main, our social workers from both adult and children’s services would echo the outcome of the survey. The effect of the economic situation has been seen as a significant change to the workload of social workers. In Doncaster this is not due to the deletion of jobs, rather the opposite for social workers, but certainly the changes to back office functions and to the workforce terms and conditions have had an impact. As a council, some of the planned changes have been offset by alternative measures, for example the use of pool cars for staff.

“It is the view that social workers in children’s services, rather than adults, would be more inclined to say caseloads are unmanageable, thus reflecting the response to the survey.”

Ms Higgs concluded that Doncaster is taking steps “to address the effect the current changes and pressures are having on this valued workforce”.

Essex County Council’s Director Safeguarding Practice & Development, Karen Wright, explained how the local authority had set up “a virtual Social Care Academy, linking our Adult Social Care and Children Social Care Directorates”, which will form the “platform to implement the social work reforms and Munro findings”.

The council said the timing of BASW’s survey was “unfortunate”, coming at a time when a number of reforms are only just being rolled out, most notably “the employer standards and supervision guidance, released in December 2011, and the professional capabilities framework, only signed off on 23 March 2012”.

Shropshire County Council suggested the report “doesn’t reflect for the most part our current experience” but did raise wider concerns about “bigger picture” issues that the survey does not consider in any notable depth. “[This] centres on our concerns around the social care agenda being overshadowed by the bundling of social work within health and education agendas; through for instance the close of the General Social Care Council and [the renaming of the] Department of Children, Schools and Families, and the recent Health and Social Care Bill which goes much deeper in eroding the professional status of social work.”

Poole Borough Council’s chief executive John McBride noted the report “with interest and with some concern” but added: “Although the report contains some very alarming information, we do not recognise some of the more extreme comments that suggest that staff and service users are at risk because of poor management practices.” Illustrating the point, Mr McBride pointed to Poole having a low staff turnover for social workers in children services, 4.6% in 2010/11, and 2.7% the following year.

Redcar and Cleveland’s director of adult and children’s services, Barbara Shaw, also defended the working environment for social workers employed by the council. She described a range of measures aimed at better supporting social workers, including an increase in the number of established social work posts, no requirement for unqualified practitioners to carry out tasks that should be undertaken by qualified workers, no holding of social work vacancies (there are no issues in relation to recruitment and retention), and an increase in the number of established team manager posts.

Hackney Borough Council responded with a lengthy checklist of the efforts it was making “to support social workers, reduce the impact of cuts and lighten their admin responsibilities”.

Highlighted by Professor Munro and others for its innovative Reclaiming Social Work agenda, Hackney emphasised its “high quality learning and development opportunities æ – last year, for instance, it offered 316 different courses for social care workers. The response to BASW’s letter added: “Our recent Health Check survey highlighted high levels of support for social workers. Almost all receive regular monthly supervision, with around three-quarters supported with notes and monitored for quality. Access to managers and other resources is also very good. Over 92% reported that their managers provide advice and guidance, and 88% can access senior managers.”