A new strategy is being pushed ahead for children and young people’s social care in Peterborough which will seek to reduce the need for costly agency social workers.
Peterborough City Council currently contracts 30 agency staff to ensure that all of the city’s 87 qualified social worker posts are filled.
Typically, an agency social worker costs approximately £60,500 a year compared to the annual cost of employing a full-time social worker of between £37,000 and £45,000.
The new strategy, which will now be fully costed, follows a self-assessment of the Children’s Services department by its new senior leadership team who were appointment in March.
It will pilot the recruitment of 12 specialist team support workers who will work, under qualified guidance, with children with lower priority needs and support the work of social workers with more complex cases.
The strategy will seek to introduce an additional initial screening capacity and greater emphasis on the use of Early Help services to children and young people.
It will also introduce a new multi-disciplinary service that supports young people with complex needs, located within the Youth Offending Service.
Wendi Ogle-Welbourn, the council’s corporate director: people and communities, said: “Because of the national shortage we, like many other authorities in the UK, are struggling to appoint as many permanent experienced social workers as we want to.
“Posts aren’t left vacant in Peterborough and we will always contract qualified agency social care workers. But this is expensive and inevitably leads to a high level of agency staff turnover.”
The strategy was agreed in principle at a meeting of the council’s cabinet yesterday (Monday, August 3).
Although the national shortage of qualified social workers was highlighted, Lou Williams, service director: children’s services, said: “Peterborough is a challenging place to work as a social worker. We have a diverse community and some work through interpretors.
“Perhaps there is more attraction to working in Cambridge. But I think we can turn that around.
“For the right kind of person, you can attract people in more challenging places if the package makes up for it.”
Mr Williams added: “What I’m trying to do is to develop a more long-term sustainable model. It’s about reducing the number of people coming into the service.
“We have around 800 referrals to social services every month. Two hundred result in assessment and about 150 go forward.”
Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, deputy leader and cabinet member for integrated adult social care and health, believes the changes are a sensible move and will relieve some of the pressures on the service.
Further parts of the new strategy include: increasing team manager capacity by establishing two additional posts, a review of the council’s recruitment and retention arrangements for staff in Children’s Services, and commissioning a leading charity to address families affected by chronic neglect issues in the city.
Council leader Cllr John Holdich said: “We have to value this profession. People work under huge pressures.”
Ms Ogle-Welbourn added: “This strategy will change the service so it is sustainable for the future.
“In the short-term we need to improve our recruitment and retention of staff.
“In the long–term we are aiming to reduce our reliance on qualified social workers by, for example, employing specialist support staff to work with children with lower priority needs.
“We will always continue to use experienced social workers in complex situations and for children on protection plans but I believe that our new strategy will better address the variety of needs and challenges faced by children, young people and families in our city.”