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Government Statistics Show Growth in UK Children's Social Work

The government has released its official statistics for the children’s social work workforce, for the year ending 30th September 2019. Information is collected from local authorities in England on the social workers and agency workers employed within the children’s services department. These are workers registered with the Health and Care Professional Council (HCPC) and working in a local authority children’s services department.


The study found 30,700 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) children and family social workers in post, an increase of 4.2% over the previous year. This increase continues the upward trend seen in recent years.


There was a sharp increase (13.4%) in FTE child and family social work starters in 2019 compared to the previous year. The number of leavers also increased but at a slower rate of 3.6%. The turnover rate remains stable at 15.1%. The highest proportion (35%) of leavers had been in the profession for less than 2 years, followed by 33% who had been working for 2-5 in this area.


The study found the overwhelming majority of workers in this field to be female (86%) compared to male (14%). 78% of the workers were between 30-59 years old. The majority (61%) had been at their local authority for less than 5 years, up from 59% in 2018. There were slight decreases in the proportion of social workers who had been in service for longer periods of time.




The average caseload per children and family social worker has declined slightly, from 17.4 in 2018 to 16.9 in 2019. At the same time, the number of FTE children and family social worker vacancies increased to 6000 in 2019, up 3.9% on the previous year.


Just over half (52%) of workers were in a case holder role, up 1% from the previous year. The percentage of qualified workers without cases fell to 13.1%, down slightly from 13.8% the previous year and 15% in 2017. 15% were senior practitioners, 14% were first-line managers, while 6% were more senior managers.


The number of agency workers in this field has increased by 7% over the previous year, corresponding to a rate of 16% compared to 15% in 2018. The percentage of these workers covering vacancies fell by 1% to 77%. This varied considerably between local authorities. Some reported that less than 10% of their agency workers were covering vacancies, while others reported that all of them were doing this.


Agency workers are often used to manage seasonal peaks or severe backlogs as an alternative to employing social workers on a permanent basis. For this reason, high agency worker rates do not necessarily imply a local authority has recruitment or retention issues.

The overall vacancy rate was unchanged from the previous year. As has been observed previously, there were considerable variations by region, with the North of England having the lowest vacancy rate (8%) and London the highest (24%). The majority (73%) were covered by agency workers, up 1% on the previous year. The absence rate was relatively unchanged over the previous year, at 3.1%.


In terms of ethnic origin, there was a slight decrease in the white workforce and a slight increase in the black workforce. Otherwise the ethnic distribution was very similar to the previous two years.


This information was from the 7th children’s social work census, which collected data over each full year ending 30th September. This is the 3rd year in which the data has been collected on an individual-level social worker basis.


This is also the first year that these are published as official statistics, as they were previous classified as experimental statistics. Care should be therefore taken in comparing these statistics with previous years, particularly pre- as changes could result from improvements in data quality.



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