Plans for new academy for Norfolk social workers, but union claims it is unlikely to be a “panacea” for problems

Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen - Credit: Submitted

A new academy to recruit and train social workers in Norfolk is to be launched, as the county council struggles to attract and retain staff crucial to turning around its 'inadequate' children's services department.

Council bosses hope the Norfolk Social Care Academy will help stem its reliance on agency staff to plug holes within its social services system.

But union chiefs, while welcoming the idea, warned the academy was unlikely to be the 'panacea' for all the authority's recruitment problems, in the face of a national shortage of social workers.

The council's children's services department was rated inadequate in 2013 and was deemed to still be inadequate when inspectors from Ofsted returned last year.

The social care team, of just over 460 full-time equivalent posts, currently has about nine vacancies, but is having to employ more than 80 agency staff for cover because of difficulties with recruitment and retention.

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There was a staff turnover of almost 14pc in 2014/15 and almost 8pc in 2015/16, although council leaders say that is below the regional rate.

The council believes the academy will help tackle those problems by offering ongoing training and mentoring to social workers not only new to the profession, but at all stages of their career.

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It has been created under the guidance of Dame Lorna Boreland-Kelly, who has set up academies at local authorities in Croydon, Essex and Medway.

The council says the academy will build on the work of the Norfolk Institute for Practice Excellence scheme - a partnership between County Hall and the University of East Anglia.

Bosses said the new academy would grow the bank of social workers and keep developing them, while also enticing back qualified social workers who have dropped out of the profession.

Michael Rosen, executive director of Children's Services, said: 'In Norfolk we are fortunate in being able to retain good social care staff – our turnover rate is amongst the lowest in the region.

'This offers great continuity of care and support to children and families that we work with, and in return for this loyalty, we need to be able to offer something a bit special in the area of their continuing professional development.

'The academy is this special 'extra' offer to staff, and will, I am sure, help us achieve our ambition for continued and sustained improvements across Norfolk children's services.'

But Jonathan Dunning, secretary of Unison at County Hall, said: 'I think the county council needs to come up with ways to recruit and retain and it is welcome that they are trying something, but I would not be convinced this is the perfect panacea to their ills.

'There is a wide crisis in social work and Norfolk is not well-placed to attract because of its location and the difficulties the department has had.

'And the job of social worker is becoming ever more challenging, with workers set to be held personally liable for their actions from 2018.'

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