Francis Oppler (LDem, Bognor Regis East) thought that staff morale was at an ‘all-time low’ and, although West Sussex County Council’s fostering and adoption services had been through a redesign, he argued that the ‘settling-in period’ did not look like ending.
In response Peter Evans, cabinet member for children – start of life, said that he understood concerns and conceded that a shortage of social workers was leading to ‘unacceptable case loads’.
But he told Cllr Oppler he ‘did not get that same negativity that you seem to have picked up’ when speaking to staff.
Speaking at a full council meeting on Friday (February 19), Cllr Oppler said: “If you talk to social workers on the ground, there is a state of chaos.
“They are exhausted, and there will be very few people who are looking for employment who would willingly go into the furnace if they know that the furnace is there.
“I hope you can press further ahead because the only way we can stop this problem is to increase the recruitment and increase the retention.”
He went on to suggest that social workers were spending less and less time with children and more time in court, with individual social worker case loads ‘unacceptably high’ and staff morale at an ‘all time low’.
Cllr Oppler asked: “What are your intentions to resolve this as so far little has happened to rectify this problem?”
Cllr Evans explained that they had changed the way they operated the service in West Sussex last summer, and while they did have a shortage of social workers, they were bringing in temporary staff, but hiring agency workers was putting pressure on the department’s budget.
He said: “I find that social workers love their role, love their job, and do whatever they can to do the best for the children in their care.
“We are investing, we are trying to do everything we possibly can to make West Sussex an employer of choice, but we are up against it, we look at the problems in Brighton and Hove, in East Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey, they are all having trouble attracting the right number of social workers in.
“I’m convinced we can do it because, when I go around and talk to staff, they see the support that goes in to assist them to improve.”
He went on to list the ways the county council was investing, such as in its social care academy, as well as administrative support to ‘allow social workers to be social workers’.
He added: “We are in the process of bedding that in at this time, now what that actually means is it will take time for us to get all of these people up to speed and that will actually happen so we will get there.”
Back in April 2015, the county council announced £500,000 of funding towards the new social care academy to training newly qualified social workers as it looked to reduce staff case loads and ‘burn outs’.
It was reported back in May that while the service redesign would cost the council around £1.4m, they were spending more than £2m a year on agency staff.
The academy aims to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the service at the same time as reducing agency costs to the council due to lower staff turnover.
The idea is to give social workers a high level of support and supervision during their first 12 months at the county council.
For more on the council’s recruitment drive visit www.westsussex.gov.uk/campaigns/were-looking-for-social-workers
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