By Kit Sandeman, Local Democracy Reporter
The current caseload for social workers across Nottinghamshire is ‘too high’ and more members of staff are being drafted in, according to the County Council.
The average social worker in Nottinghamshire who deals with assessments is currently handling 26 cases at any one time.
Those who work in the Children’s Disability Service have an average of 24 cases at a time, while social workers in the District Child Protection Teams juggle an average of 22 at any one time.
To reduce average caseloads to a manageable level – which the council defines as an average of 20 to 21 – an extra 18 qualified case workers would need to be brought in, the council says.
However due to recruitment issues, the council says it aims to hire 22.5 social work support officers (SWSOs) who will work within social services, doing tasks for which a qualified social worker is not required.
It is hoped hiring SWSOs will free up the council’s 146 qualified social workers, reducing their caseloads.
It follows a trial period in the county which council bosses say helped improved the service.
A report presented to the council found: “Due to such difficulties in recruiting experienced social workers, it is proposed an alternative approach would be to increase the number of Social Work Support Officer (SWSO) posts within frontline teams, and to establish a project team to implement a new approach to supporting case progression.
“It is believed this would significantly free up social worker and team manager capacity to progress cases, improve practice and staff morale and over a period of time, would reduce average caseloads.”
The hiring of the new SWSOs is predicted to cost £580,000 a year, less than the £776,000 per annum which the council says it would cost to hire 18 qualified social workers.
Councillor Philip Owen represents the Nuthall and Kimberley ward for the Conservatives and is also chairman of the committee which took the decision to hire more SWSOs.
He said: “We consider that our investment in recruiting 20 plus more social work support officers – and also making those involved in our pilot project permanent – is the most cost effective way of ensuring safe caseloads and, through this, improved quality social work practice.
“This extra support will significantly free up social workers’ capacities to progress cases, improve practice and staff morale and, over a period of time, will reduce average caseloads.
“Since the pilot period began in 2015, support workers have saved social workers an average of 6.5 hours per week doing tasks that don’t need to be undertaken by a qualified social worker.
“Over the past few years, we have seen increased demand for frontline social workers which has resulted in caseloads being too high.
“Average caseloads in our assessment service, children with disabilities and district child protection teams are currently significantly higher than they should be and we are committed to reducing these to manageable levels.”