Social workers “feel valued and positive” as Somerset looks after its own

Somerset County Council is putting a renewed focus on staff retention as part of its work to address the chronic national shortage of permanent Children’s Social Workers.

As part of a major recruitment drive, the authority is successfully reducing its turnover rate and sees this as a crucial part of its long-term plans to build a stable workforce. The rate has fallen from 20 per cent to 14 per cent over the last 12 months. This is complemented by the recruitment of over 40 permanent and experienced children’s social workers and 26 newly qualified social workers since May 2015.

Somerset’s Children’s Services are in the middle of a major improvement programme following two consecutive inadequate ratings from Ofsted. There has been massive investment in recruitment – including securing a permanent senior leadership team for the service and investing in graduate trainees through the Step Up to Social Work Programme and mentoring schemes at nearby Universities.

However, with the market for social workers so tough throughout the industry, the Council has made ‘looking after its own’ as much a part of its future plans as recruitment.

Over sixty social workers and staff from Children’s Social Care came together last month to learn more about the benefits available to permanent staff.

The event, called ‘Looking after Our Own’, focused on retention issues that affect social care teams nationally as well as locally.

“The stability of a permanent workforce is vital to making a difference to the children and young people we support,” said Julian Wooster, Somerset County Council’s Director for Children Services. “We know that giving vulnerable children a consistent face is important in making a difference so that they can develop a trusting relationship.”

Chris Squire, Director of Human Resources & Organisational Development at Somerset County Council, added: “Supporting and developing current and future colleagues is a crucial part of our children’s improvement programme and key to recruiting and retaining staff who will improve lives for children, young people and their families.

“With recruitment of good quality social workers proving a challenge nationwide, we are making a real effort in Somerset to ensure the best of our staff want to stay and work with us to keep improving our services. Events like this are an important part of our recruitment and retention strategy and the figures speak for themselves; fewer social workers are leaving us.”

At the event, social workers heard about learning and development opportunities available through Somerset’s new Social Work Academy and the new benefit package for staff which includes the opportunity to purchase additional leave.

Guest speakers Liz Frost, from the University of West England, and Sue Walton, spoke about Resilience, Recognition and Retention and Reflective Supervision. A representative from Care First, Tristan Rigby, the Council’s free assistance programme for staff, also led a session on services available to support staff at home and work in managing pressure and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

There were also representatives from a number of organisations such as Unison, Community Care Inform, Mindfulness UK, My Staff Shop and The Learning Centre who were all available to speak to social workers throughout the event.

One social worker said: “The event has made me feel valued and positive about Somerset” while another commented: “All speakers were very enthusiastic and informative. Very reassuring about Somerset’s focus.”

Information about Somerset County Council’s Social Work Academy can be found here.

The website also features available jobs with Children’s and Adults’ Social Care and gives people an idea of what it is like to work for Somerset County Council with staff blogs and a list of benefits.