COUNCIL chiefs say recruiting social workers is a ‘priority’ after it was revealed nearly one in five of those dealing with children and families in Dorset left their jobs last year.

Statistics from the Department for Education show the turnover rate – the proportion of the full-time workforce that left – was 18.4 per cent in these crucial roles protecting vulnerable children.

The largest group of leavers was highly experienced social workers with 10 to 20 years in the job. The figures cover the 12 months up to September last year.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said turnover rates were higher than in comparable professions and were an indication of the working environment and the daily pressures facing staff.

Dorset County Council employs the equivalent of 186 full-time staff, with some full-time posts shared by part-time workers. The figures show that last autumn there were 22 vacancies, 15 of these were being covered by agency workers.

Maris Stratulis, England Manager at the BASW, said: “It is imperative that we address the instability in the workforce and create safer working environments for social workers where their workloads are manageable.”

Social workers dealing directly with children and families make up 60 per cent of the full-time staff. The rest are in management roles or are newly qualified so not given responsibility for cases.

The average caseload for each full time social worker dealing directly with cases was 15.4, which is slightly below the average rate for England of 17.8 cases.

The BASW said that caseload numbers failed to show the full picture as they didn’t take account of the complexity of some cases where multiple children from the same family might be living in different locations with different care solutions but would be the responsibility of a single case holder.

Ms Stratulis said: “The pressures on children’s social workers are at times untenable as they are given unmanageable caseloads, work well over their hours and inevitably carry the stress of something going wrong on their caseload. We know only too well that the stakes are very high.”

Nick Jarman, Director for Children’s Services at DCC, said: “Like many authorities, recruiting and retaining children’s social workers is a challenge. Children’s social work is a sellers’ market – where demand outstrips supply.

"We recognise that we have to compete, which means our ‘offer’ has to make us the employer of choice. For instance one key benefit is that we have reduced our caseload to a very manageable 1:15 ratio.

“Last year, councillors agreed to give us £1m to fund an additional 20 experienced social workers. Our first phase of recruitment finished at the end of February and we’ve already filled a third of our vacancies and are also taking on eight trainee social workers.

“So this means in phase two of our recruitment drive we need to recruit another 10 social workers to close the vacancy gap. This is good going after no more than five weeks into our campaign.

“We are also investing in our staff through Reinvigorating Social Work, a unique development programme specifically for our children’s social workers. If we want to reduce the number of children going into care, we need to give our staff more time to work closely with families so they can really make a difference. Filling these vacancies remains a top priority for us, that’s just what we’re doing.”