In this blog post I’ll be referring mostly to children and families social workers as that is where it’s most damaging.
I’ll start by touching on the financial side.
Agency Social Workers are a very lucrative industry.
Almost 20% of children’s social workers in English Local Authorities are agency staff.
The two biggest social worker employment agencies made millions in profits..
Local Authorities are already suffering financially, the cost of employing agency social workers is costing them more than it does to employ permanent social workers which leads to the Local Authority to have even less money to spend it where it is needed, which is on the children.
Not to mention that sometimes agencies are insisting on sending teams when a local authority just wants a single worker.
The agencies themselves and their methods are a post for another day.
This is solely about the 1 in 5 Children’s Social Workers who are agency staff.
I know that LA’s need more money from the government, I know there is a shortfall of funds. I know there is talk about bringing in things so that agency work is banned.
It shouldn’t have to come to that though. Social Workers shouldn’t join agencies.
You signed up for the job. You went to university for 3 years, you went through a placement, and in most cases you will have had a permanent position in a local authority for years before you start agency work.
An increasing number of agency workers are newly qualified social workers.
You cannot be a good social worker if you are an agency social worker
You knew how much you would get paid, what the job entails, everything, before you started working for an agency. Most of all you knew that children need consistency, they need the same social worker throughout any interaction with social services.
A children’s social worker is one of the very few jobs where the consistency of having the same professional is essential to the job. A child going to counselling would get nowhere if they had a new counsellor every month and never knew if they would see the same counsellor at their next appointment. It would be ridiculous.
It’s the same with children and social workers, a child tells the social worker their story, the social worker says they will help, then the next month the child is telling their story to yet another new social worker, and again and again.
I’ve heard multiple stories of children having different social workers almost every month. The parents being told they have to be consistent in everything they do and then every time there is a new social worker the new social worker has different ideas.
If you are going to be an effective children’s and families social worker, then you need to be working permanently either part time or full time in a local authority. There are some exceptions, but for the overwhelming majority of positions it is better for the service users to not have agency social workers.
I’ve heard the reasons why people turn to agency work, because they want more money, because they want more control over when they work, because they want to change things up every now and again.
If that is what you want, don’t go into social work. If you are unhappy with the pay and the job, then leave and find another career.
If you aren’t cut out for children’s social work, or just don’t care enough about the children you work with, find another career.
Agency social workers are damaging to children. The whole point of children’s social work is to help children. If the work that needs doing is going to take a year and involves building up trust, if that child has 8 different social workers in that time how is the child going to trust any of them?
Or even remember their names or faces.
How are the parents meant to make consistent change when 8 different social workers have 8 different ways of doing things?
It’s also not very safe with the possibility that something will get missed with all the social worker changes. When you build up a relationship with a child you get to know when something is wrong. It’s easier to talk to the child as they know who you are and you know who they are.
It should be clear to everyone that multiple social workers are damaging to children so why do some social workers insist on adding to the problem by becoming agency workers?
I’m not judging social workers for wanting more money or wanting to be able to dictate when they work, but if that is more important to them than the children they work with they should not be a social worker. There are plenty of other jobs that will give you what you want without a child having to endure sub standard social work.
I know there is a shortage of social workers and therefore local authorities need to use agencies to fill those roles. However, if there were no agency social workers those roles would be filled with the social workers currently working through an agency. There would still be a shortage of social workers but it would make things a lot better for service users.
I know money is tight and cases are high and the job is stressful, but you have the choice to leave. Going to an agency may make things better for you, but you are in a career where you are not the important one. Either give it your all or go do something else.
Children deserve better than agency social workers, they deserve better than a social worker telling them they will do everything they can to help knowing full well that they will be moving on in a few weeks leaving the child with another new social worker.
I’ve heard of families who have had a dozen social workers in two years, families who are having a new social worker each month, families who have had four different social workers within two months. They are not told the social worker won’t be working with them for long and the way they often find out is by attempting to contact the social worker for a week with no response and then calling the main switchboard to be told the social worker no longer works there.
You cannot be an effective children and families social worker if you are only planning to stick around for short periods. Things happen with permanent workers, they leave and work elsewhere, or leave the profession completely. They may take extended sick leave, go on maternity leave, get promoted or change departments, but at least they don’t plan in advance to only stick with a family for a few weeks and then move on.
When you choose a career where consistency for families is key, why then go and decide to go against that and purposefully plan to only be involved with families for a short period of time?
It is not acceptable. The agencies will try and draw social workers in to work through their agency, they offer incentives, including money if you can get another social worker to sign up with them. Their methods are not what I would personally call ethical and they are making millions each year from the public purse.
There are not enough social workers, there is also not enough money, that isn’t going to change, except to get worse, but the situation with agencies is getting out of hand, especially with them insisting on sending teams when only one social worker is needed.
Social Workers have left permanent roles only to then cost the public more by then covering gaps in permanent staffing levels while giving children and families a poorer service.
You cannot say that you are dedicated to helping children and families if you are an agency social worker as you have signed up to do the opposite.
I have seen what happens to families where there are ever changing social workers, parents get confused over which social workers advice they should follow, children end up refusing to engage with social care, and outcomes are poorer
If you no longer want to do the job for whatever reason, leave and do something else, don’t stay in it just for the money. Don’t flit about from job to job because you want the freedom to be able to take a two week break to Spain at a moments notice.
Choose between doing the job effectively or not at all, don’t give families a poorer service just because it suits you.