Children and family social workers experienced an average 10.5% increase in their caseload last year raising further concerns that cuts to early intervention services are increasing pressure on stretched frontline staff and undermining the quality of support to vulnerable children.
Figures published for the first time by the Department for Education show the average number of cases per worker rose from 16.1 to 17.8 between 2016 and 2017.
Of the 136 councils which provided full data, social workers at 30 councils had average caseloads of 20 or more, while 15 had an average of 15 or less.
seventeen per cent
President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services Stuart Gallimore told LGC growing financial and demand pressures in the system will inevitably lead to larger caseloads.
Mr Gallimore said: “If you take the preventative services out of the equation, over time a significant proportion will flow through on to social work caseloads at a time when the money means you are not in a position to increase your social work cohort.
“Ultimately an inextricable, continued rise of the numbers of cases social workers are managing will at some point have a tipping point in terms of the quality and the thoroughness of that work and the impact it has in terms of the timeliness with which key things need to happen.”
Mr Gallimore, who is also director of children’s services at East Sussex CC, did warn these figures should be treated with caution as some high performing councils can maintain bigger caseloads because social workers have more support staff.
He also said the figures do not reveal the complexity of cases, what stage a case has reached or whether it involves a number of children in the same home.
Overall 73 councils (54%) experienced an annual rise in average caseloads in 2017, with 23 (17%) seeing a rise of five or more.
The largest regional average caseload in 2017 could be found in the north west (19.4) followed by the West Midlands (18.7), where there was also the biggest average annual increase of 5.1. The lowest average caseloads in 2017 were found in London and the East of England, with both on 16.1.
Social workers at Shropshire Council had the largest average caseload and experienced the biggest rise over the period, with the average caseload trebling to 25.1 in 2017. Shropshire’s children’s services were rated good by Ofsted in October last year.
The second largest rise was at North East Lincolnshire Council, also rated good in September 2017, where the average caseload doubled to 22.9. A spokesperson for North East Lincolnshire said the council was looking into how the data had been collected as an initial investigation suggests the published average caseload rate for 2016 is incorrect.
They added: “Between 2016 and 2018 we have experienced approximately a 12% increase in the average caseload per social worker, which is in line with most other local authorities across the UK as demand and need has increased.”
Hertfordshire CC had the smallest average caseload in 2017 (12.4).
The largest decrease was at Isle of Wight council, where the average caseload dropped from 51.3 to 21.8. Hampshire CC has run Isle of Wight’s children’s services since 2013.
British Association of Social Workers England manager Maris Stratulis said the statistics reflect increasing demand on services and complexity of need, with the impact of government policies on welfare reform and housing leading to “generational trauma” for children.
She said: “BASW continues to lobby government for urgent investment in preventative services, an increase in the number of social workers, manageable caseloads and a culture shift from process driven work to social workers being given the time to do the job properly and undertake regular quality direct work with children, young people and their families.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “Local authorities are responsible for making sure, through recruitment and deployment, that social workers caseloads are manageable.
“We are supporting them in a number of ways including the £200m innovation programme, to improve support for vulnerable children and families.”