The first ever national campaign to recruit and retain child social workers was launched yesterday by the Local Government Association (LGA) with a drive to recruit 5,000 professionals who have recently left.
Council leaders will highlight that, while there have been consistent improvements in recruitment and retention over the last few years, there are still problems that need to be addressed. In the aftermath of the tragic death of Baby P, council leaders are deeply concerned that the fallout from the case will lead to a decline in respect for child social workers, a wave of departures from the profession and a difficulty in attracting new candidates. The LGA fears that this could lead to a greater chance of a case of child abuse being missed.
According to a new report by the LGA, one in ten child social worker posts are vacant at any one time. Of those councils who experience recruitment difficulties, 89% had trouble recruiting experienced children social workers and around 5,500 child social workers are agency staff.
Two in three councils reported problems recruiting children's social workers, almost double the number reporting problems recruiting adult social workers, a LGA survey of councils revealed.
The research also found that 40% of councils reported problems in retaining children's social workers compared to 25% reporting problems retaining adult social workers.
Speaking at the launch of the campaign, the Chairman of the Local Government Association, Cllr Margaret Eaton, said: "Poor performance at the frontline in any of our services must be effectively challenged, in this area above all, and where good support does not result in improvement it has to be dealt with firmly.
"There are real difficulties for councils in recruiting and retaining high calibre child social worker staff. If lessons are to be learned, then we must look to the future and recruit and retain staff so that they can protect the most vulnerable children in society. In the short term we must encourage up to 5,000 recently retired child social work professionals back to the front line to help keep children safe.
"The recent sad events shine a light on the onerous responsibility councils bear in working with the most vulnerable children and families, and the equally onerous responsibility we ask children's social workers to carry on our behalf.
"It is a tough job to do and for councils it is the toughest job to fill."
The LGA campaign comes ahead of the publication next week of a new Lord Laming report on the implementation of his recommendations made in 2003 after the tragic death of Victoria Climbié.