Child and Family Social Worker Workforce

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Closes 11 May 2023

About this consultation

This consultation seeks views on the introduction of a set of national rules on the engagement of agency social work resource in local authority children’s social care. The national rules include eight proposals:

  1. A requirement that all procurement routes used by LAs to engage agency social workers must adhere to the national rules.
  2. The introduction of national price caps on what local authorities may pay per hour for an agency social worker.
  3. A requirement for social workers who graduated in or after April 2024 to demonstrate a minimum of five years post-qualified experience working within LA children’s social care and completion of the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) in order to qualify for an agency appointment.
  4. No longer using “managed service”/“project” teams for child and family social work.
  5. A requirement for employers to request and provide references for all agency social worker candidates.
  6. Not engaging agency workers for a period of three months after they have left a substantive role within the same region (excluding certain exceptions).
  7. A requirement of a minimum of a six-week notice period for agency social workers via a reciprocal arrangement between agency workers and LAs. To minimise immediate or quick departures and the associated impact on children and families and the wider workforce.
  8. The collection and sharing of core agency and pay data, to support better workforce planning and the ability to monitor, enforce and assess the impact of the proposals.

You should read the Child and Family Social Worker Workforce government consultation document before completing the online survey.

It is important to note that:

  • The proposals set out in this consultation document relate to all registered child and family social workers working within/for/commissioned by local authority children’s social care.
  • “Agency social workers” includes those introduced or supplied by recruitment agencies or working as part of teams of social workers (sometimes described as: “managed service teams”, “project teams”, “contractors” or “consultants”).
  • “Local Authority” (LA) is used throughout and should be read to include Children’s Service Trust/Alternative Delivery Models

Who is this for

Local government (local authorities, Children’s Trusts and Alternative Delivery Models for children’s social care, Directors of Children’s Services, Chief Executives, Finance Directors, Heads of Service, Heads of People/HR, workforce leads, Principal Social Workers and Practice Leaders). Child and family social workers who are local authority employees. Child and family social workers who are agency workers or contractors. Employers of social workers, recruitment agencies and intermediaries, and central purchasing bodies. 

We would like to hear your views on our proposals.

Related information

On Monday 23 May 2022, the independent review of children’s social care published its final report ‘The independent review of children’s social care: final report’.  This reviewed the needs, experiences and outcomes of the children supported by social care. The review made a number of recommendations related to the child and family social worker workforce. These included recommendations around the engagement of agency social work resource which the review described as “costly and works against providing stable professional relationships for children and families”. On 30 January 2023 Government published Stable Homes, Built on Love setting out the response to the review.

This consultation has been published alongside Stable Homes, Built on Love. It asks for your views on proposals to improve quality and reduce costs and enable better use of resources by local authorities (LAs), so more resources are available for developing and stabilising the workforce and improving outcomes for children and families.

The employment of agency workers can be helpful in allowing an authority to manage fluctuations in demand, fill in for staff temporarily absent and manage crises. There are agencies who are committed both to effective workforce planning across the sector and to supporting the needs of social workers and employers. There are also many excellent social workers working for a local authority via an agency who are delivering for vulnerable children and families as part of the workforce.  

However, over reliance on agency social work resource has led to workforce instability, churn and high costs. This makes it more difficult for social workers to consolidate learning, build expertise and develop quality relationships with children and families. Certain conditions imposed by some agencies, such as capped caseloads and fully remote working, continue to increase pressures on social workers who are permanently employed within local authorities. Such practices embed disparities into the workforce, and put at risk stable and sustained relationships with families and colleagues.

We know, in addition to some higher levels of pay, that some agencies may offer or negotiate greater flexibility in working patterns. Some social workers with additional responsibilities outside of work or whose circumstances change may feel working for a local authority via an agency is better able to provide the right flexibility and balance for them. Social workers tell us that the main reasons they work via agencies is because of better pay and more flexible working conditions. 

We recognise that the proposals in this consultation will not, in isolation, respond to the concerns of all social workers or address all the factors contributing to current workforce pressures. And while there are some excellent local authority employers and leaders, there are also those who must do more to be better employers for their permanently employed social workers.

This is why, in addition to the proposals in this consultation, Stable Homes, Built on Love sets out how we will be working with the sector to improve working conditions and create environments that embrace diversity and inclusion, so that all social workers are happy at work and are able to thrive. This includes efforts to reduce workload so that social workers can spend more time in direct practice with children and families. We will also develop and disseminate tools, guidance and best practice in improving retention including on flexible working.

Subject to the outcome of this consultation, we would expect social workers who are currently working for a local authority via an agency to be offered the opportunity to transition to permanent or fixed-term employment. We will be working the sector to ensure that there is a simple and effective means to complete this transition.

This consultation should be read alongside chapter 6 of Stable Homes, Built on Love.