Norfolk social worker shortage could be tackled through UEA ‘academy’

James Joyce, cabinet member for safeguarding.

James Joyce, cabinet member for safeguarding. - Credit: Archant

The bid to improve Norfolk's much-criticised children's services department could be boosted by the creation of an 'academy' to produce social workers at the University of East Anglia,

And Norfolk County Council is also looking to attract social workers to Norfolk by advertising on London tube trains and near railway stations.

The children's services department has been criticised by Ofsted inspectors over the way the council looks after vulnerable children and the support it gives to schools.

That led to the county's MPs calling for a change in leadership, prompting the departure of Lisa Christensen, the director of children's services.

She has been replaced by interim director Sheila Lock, with her remit to turn the department around bolstered by a cabinet commitment of £2.7m of one-off investment to employ agency social workers - specifically to reduce caseloads and clear backlogs.

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The council says 55 agency social workers were recruited, along with four agency team managers. But the council concedes that 'a small number of agency staff have left and are being or have been replaced'.

They say that is either because they have wanted to work closer to home, or because bosses felt they do not have the experience needed to support the improvements required in Children's Services.

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A further £2.3m was committed to recruit permanent social workers for when the agency staff contracts end. So far a dozen social workers have been recruited into post.

The council says 4,400 people have visited the recruitment microsite and 70 people registering or partially completing an application.

Last week advertisements were placed on London Tube Trains, at main line stations and near various London tube stations. Advertisements are also being placed in London boroughs, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham.

But, in a report which will go before members of the county council's children's services overview and scrutiny panel next week, councillors will hear that is unlikely to completely solve the issue, with a national shortage of experienced social workers.

The report states: 'Whilst we are optimistic that we will get some good staff from this approach, it would be unrealistic for us to assume that we can get the numbers of experienced staff that we need to increase our establishment and replace agency workers who are covering vacancies.'

The council says it is in discussions with the UEA to develop an 'academy' approach to recruiting large groups of newly qualified social workers and helping them through their assisted and supported year in employment (ASYE).

James Joyce, cabinet member for Safeguarding Children, said: 'We have already invested significant resources in frontline social work, to ensure that we have the capacity to make the improvements that are needed and can focus much more on supporting families early and helping to reduce the numbers of children coming into our care.

'We want to ensure that this is sustainable and that means developing and recruiting social workers who have the skills needed to deliver a good service to Norfolk's children and their families.

'Part of this is ensuring that Newly Qualified Social Workers (NQSW) are well trained and supported and we are already working closely with the UEA to support them through their first year in employment.

'The Academy model we are exploring, with support from the UEA, will give us the dedicated capacity we need to ensure that our NQSWs develop the skills and breadth of experience needed to become the best social workers.

'If this is successful we will be able to grow more of our own experienced social workers, as well as recruit experience from other parts of the country.

'We still at a very early stage of development but we will be meeting with the UEA later in January to further develop the proposed model.'

• What do you think? Write, including full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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