Four in ten children’s social services staff at Northamptonshire County Council are agency staff

Heather Smith - in charge of children's social services
Heather Smith - in charge of children's social services

Almost 40 per cent of children’s social services staff at Northamptonshire County Council are agency workers on about double the salaries of permanent colleagues.

A letter to the Government from the county’s children’s safeguarding board has highlighted the issue , which is a problem because agencies are both expensive and potentially do not give vulnerable children the continuity they need .

The proportion stands at 40 per cent, which Councillor Heather Smith, in charge of children’s social services, wants to get to zero, or at least much nearer the 12 percent national average.

Councillor Smith said: “Although not as many staff as we would like, we are fortunate that many agency workers now feel more confident about working in Northamptonshire and are choosing to become permanent employees, which actually means they get less money - and I think that’s a credit to the organisation.”

The council is trying to solve this with a recruitment drive. Alex Hopkins, the director of children’s social services, said there were a host of good reasons for social workers to want to be part of the council’s turnaround.

He said: “Firstly, there’s the improvement journey we’re on, and to be part of that is a fantastic opportunity for anyone’s career.

“The second thing is the support and development you will get and, the ability to learn your profession. Some pay packages are the best in the region.

“On top of that, 76 per cent of staff have a caseload of 20 or lower and newly-qualified social workers have a much lower, protected, level.”

A social worker academy to help ease young staff into the profession is one of the cornerstones of the children’s service turnaround.
Councillor Smith said: “We realised we have to rebuild.
“To be frank at the time we were found to be ‘inadequate’, we had taken on far too many who did not have the experience and weren’t able to cope with the big caseloads and I think for them it was enough to put them off social workfor life. rather than being brought into it gradually.”
 The new academy will take social workers fresh from their degree and ease them into the job over the course of a year in a “safe and supportive environment”, producing better professionals.