Friday, 6 November 2015

Retaining child protection social workers

I have just discovered an excellent document that everyone concerned with recruiting, retaining and managing social workers (and related professionals working in child protection) needs to read and understand.  Published by Research in Practice, part of the Dartington Hall Trust, this highly informative briefing can be downloaded at:

While I was aware from government published figures [1] of high turnover rates in children’s social work (17% for all of England and above 20% in the London area), it was only by reading this briefing that I became aware of research by Curtis et al which found that social workers remain in their professions for a very short time, compared with other professions. They found that the average working life for a social worker is under 8 years, compared to 16 years for a nurse, 25 years for a doctor and 28 years for a pharmacist.

That is a stunning and alarming statistic that I (and also I suspect a great many other people) seem to have missed since it was originally published more than five years ago. And the implications are huge. If social work careers were comparable to nurses we would need to train only half the current number required; and if they were comparable to doctors, we would only need to train one third as many.

I have always believed that retention is the key to staff shortages in children’s social work. It seems that I was right.

Returning to the briefing, a very important table on page 10 summarises positive and negative organisational factors that influence staff retention.

Negative factors which militate against staff retention include: a culture of blame, lack of clarity about roles, micro-management, high workloads, high levels of bureaucracy, poor resources and support, poor or infrequent supervision, lack of training opportunities, lack of management attention to staff welfare and little opportunity to work directly with families and children.

Not surprisingly positive factors that predispose to staff retention are mostly the direct opposites of these negative factors, although I particularly liked the way the report expresses the alternative to the blame culture: a ‘learning organisation’ with ‘a sense of collective responsibility’.

This is a report about staff retention and recruitment, but I think it could equally be a report about good management in general – do the opposite to each of those negative factors above and you are likely to have an organisation that not only retains its staff, but also achieves high quality by meeting the needs of service users in an efficient, safe and focused way.

More organisations should try it!!


[1] “Children’s Social Work Workforce during year ending 30 September 2014” SFR 07/2015, 25 February 2015

[2] Curtis L, Moriarty J and Netten A (2010), ‘The expected working
life of a social worker’. British Journal of Social Work 40(5),