Keeping children safe is important, anyone would agree. But some of the people committed to helping the most vulnerable children and young people – child and family social workers and their organisations – are facing considerable challenges. Among them, recruitment and retention of high-quality social workers – one of the biggest risks to the future delivery of children’s services.
A landmark new study, funded by the Department for Education, looks to change that. The first results from a study to understand social workers’ motivations and experiences of entering, staying and leaving the profession were published today (read the report here).
IFF research, leading a research consortium with Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Salford, are pleased to be at the forefront of tackling the challenge of social work recruitment and retention.
The findings provide a comprehensive picture of the issues facing child and family social workers and the factors influencing job satisfaction and retention. Overall, the majority of social workers who took part in the survey were motivated to enter the profession for altruistic reasons, found their job satisfying, felt loyal to their employer, and planned to stay in local authority child and family social work in the next 12 months.
Most were positive about their line manager, that they were open to ideas and recognised when they had done their job well. When asked about various aspects of their job, satisfaction was highest for having scope to use their own initiative and the sense of achievement they get from their work. The majority of social workers also felt their entry route had prepared them well for the profession.
The findings also suggest that 2-3 years post qualification is a crucial point, as people move out of the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE year). There is merit in exploring how to better support the transition out of ASYE into experienced practitioner roles to support retention and develop resilience.
The majority of social workers who took part in the survey worked more than their contracted hours and the qualitative research revealed that social workers often expected to do so in order to fulfil their roles. Flexible working arrangements were welcomed to manage this issue, such as being able to work from home or while travelling, enabled by good IT. However, in the qualitative interviews, part-time work was perceived as a barrier to progression.
Around half of the social workers who took part in the survey felt stressed by their job. Often bureaucratic procedures and paperwork were seen as getting in the way of their time with children and families, and there is a need to explore ways to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy.
The qualitative interviews identified that the major source of support for social workers was their relationship with their colleagues/ team, and both stayers and leavers talked about how critical this was for keeping them in social work practice. It is evident that organisational culture has a role to play in encouraging healthy working practices and increasing employee confidence in accessing the available support.
Improving public perception and raising the profile of and respect for the profession more widely, could help to attract more applicants.
Read the full report for detailed insights on everything from the make-up of the workforce through to some of the reasons shared for leaving the profession.
Watch this space for future publications of the next waves of research findings.