Agenda item


To scrutinise the current approach to stabilising the children’s social care workforce.





Sinead Mooney, Cabinet Member for Children and Families


Rachael Wardell, Executive Director – Children, Families and Learning


Catherine Watkins, Assistant Director for South East Quadrant


Anasia Teete, HR People Business Partner


Key points made in the discussion:

1.    The Department for Education (DfE) annual workforce census showed that nationally, social workers quitting their posts annually had risen by 40 per cent in five years. The number of leavers was greater than starters for the first time since the census began in 2017. The Assistant Director observed the Council had benchmarked salaries against neighbouring authorities and found although its base salary was reasonably competitive, its retention package was lower than elsewhere.


2.    The complexity of cases since Covid had worsened retention. Workers moving to agencies was an issue, but people were also leaving the profession, both of which resulted in an increase of caseloads for those remaining. The cost of housing in Surrey had a significant impact and a comprehensive key worker housing scheme was not being offered, meaning many workers commute and have high petrol costs. A Member thought that if the Government made agency working difficult it could lead to more leaving the profession.


3.    A Member remarked on the importance of competitive salaries amid a national staff shortage, when one third of the Council’s social workers were not permanent. A review of foster care pay had resulted in it being aligned with neighbouring authorities, enabled by extra money in the budget, agreed at January 2023 Cabinet. It was suggested the equivalent was required for Surrey’s social workers, a quarter of whom were leaving each year.


4.    It was noted the 2023/24 budget includes £1.6m funding for a retention payment scheme, an apprenticeship scheme and ASYE (Assessed and Supported Year in Employment) training. A Member asked how much was needed for the proposals outlined in the report to Committee. A business case was due to be presented to the CFLL Assurance and Performance Board in April 2023.


5.    The Executive Director remarked that a sufficiency programme was delivering children’s homes in county and the family safeguarding model emphasised keeping children with their birth families whenever safe; these policies contributed to reducing social workers’ workload. 


6.    The Executive Director recognised the importance of creating a non-discriminatory environment and better supporting social workers who encounter discrimination. Many had experienced direct and indirect racism from both colleagues and families they work with. A Council-wide bullying and harassment policy had been approved by the People, Performance and Development Committee.


7.    A Member remarked that the £0.1m budgeted for the apprenticeship scheme funded four apprentices and should be expanded. The HR People Business Manager said there were budgetary constraints.


8.    A Member repeated that children’s social care should be a budgetary priority for the Council as a whole and should allow for virements rather than being constrained to a budget envelope. The Cabinet Member for Education and Lifelong Learning stated the budget had already been set for 2023/24 and had allocated Children’s Services a £28m increase on the previous year.


9.    A Member highlighted the absence of a key worker housing scheme. A paper on housing due at Cabinet in March 2023 identified key worker housing as deficient in Surrey. A Member professed support for using the Council’s former care home in Caterham for this purpose.


10.The Council did not have a structured exit survey process before Children’s Services introduced one. The Assistant Director acknowledged that face-to-face exit interviews would be more beneficial than the current practice of sending a link to an online survey, and agreed this may be better conducted by a colleague of the leaver rather than their line manager.


11.A Member relayed that the process of recruiting locums was held up by Connect2Surrey’s slow pace. The Assistant Director stated she was aware of challenges but reported more success with Connect2Surrey than the previous provider. They were aware of a low conversion rate from CVs to appointments and would seek to analyse it. Job adverts could be refined according to area and recruitment events were being localised to quadrants. A ‘return to social work’ scheme was being put together.


12.Asked what would make social workers’ work lives easier, the Assistant Director responded with some examples: parking, a defined desk space, increased access to pool cars, more administrative support and reduced duplication of forms.


13.Social worker assistants and admin support embedded in local teams were both being considered. A Member suggested administrators who have developed experience of the sector could then be encouraged to do the Step Up to Social Work programme (for graduates without a social work degree).


14.A Member asked if, as espoused by MacAlister’s Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, there should be a greater focus on family support workers, the number of which was reduced in a former restructure. The Assistant Director indicated social workers in family safeguarding had the support of a multidisciplinary team.


15.A Member enquired if amalgamating children in need and child protection work had made the job too difficult. The Executive Director explained they would be very unlikely to separate the roles because the level of support needed by families fluctuated as they went in and out of crisis and continuity was needed.




The Select Committee welcomes the Children, Families and Lifelong Learning directorate’s aim of having 85 per cent permanent social workers. To reach this position, the Committee proposes the following:

1. The Committee fully supports the proposal of a market rate supplement of £5,000 per annum for all social workers in Family Safeguarding teams and Independent Reviewing Officer roles. It recommends that the Council matches the salary package for children’s social workers offered by neighbouring local authorities, and undertakes annual salary benchmarking to ensure this package, both monetary and non-monetary, remains competitive (Lead Member: Cabinet Member for Children and Families);

2. An action plan with SMART criteria to achieve the aforementioned 85 per cent is developed and shared with the Committee, including a timeline and target date by which to achieve this goal (Lead Member: Cabinet Member for Children and Families);

3. Key worker housing is included as a deliverable in the Cabinet report A Housing, Accommodation and Homes Strategy for Surrey for decision in March 2023 (Lead Member: Cabinet Member for Children and Families);

4. The Cabinet Member(s) and Directorate Leadership make immediate efforts to investigate the scope of issues of discrimination and bullying in Children’s Services reported in exit interviews and to the Select Committee, and take action to address these issues;

5. The Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources and the CFLL Assurance and Performance Board give consideration to the following initiatives, outwith the 2023/24 budget envelope where necessary, to help recruit and retain social work staff:

(a)  Ensure a face-to-face exit interview is offered to every single leaver. These could be with a colleague of the leaver’s choice;


(b)  Look at ways to make Connect2Surrey more efficient and communicate with managers more swiftly;


(c)   Provide administrative support to social workers;


(d)  Create a clear route for family support workers and administrators to step up to social work, with training suggested at their annual performance review;


(e)  The Committee supports the plan to reinstate the annual car user lump sum for upkeep of cars assigned to business use, and recommends also investing in more pool cars for visits to families out of county, exploring the use of electric vehicles to reduce the Council’s carbon footprint;


(f)    On taking control of on street parking enforcement in April 2023, provide front line and peripatetic social workers with parking permits for use on Council business;


(g)  Take action to ease parking constraints experienced by social workers at Surrey County Council offices;


(h)  Assign sufficient desk space to social workers in Surrey County Council offices;


(i)    Create an assistant team manager role to help supervise extended teams;


(j)    Offer support to international employees to help adjust to cultural differences;


(k)    Encourage local universities to make a statutory service placement a mandatory part of the social work degree;


(l)     Review if it would be beneficial to ASYEs to bring back the former practice of rotating them between teams for a variety of experiences before they choose where to settle;


(m) Work with East Surrey College to give placements to their Level 3 course in Access to Social Work students.


6. The Committee continues to engage with the Recruitment, Retention and Culture Board.


Actions/requests for further information:

  1. The Cabinet Member for Children and Families to provide details of the business case presented to the CFLL Assurance and Performance Board in April 2023 and the decision of the Board.


  1. The HR People Business Partner to provide the proportion of Surrey’s social workers leaving the role who leave to become a locum.


  1. The Assistant Director for South East Quadrant to provide a ‘carte blanche’ list of what she would like to be done in a bid to increase and retain the number of permanent social workers.

Supporting documents: