RADICAL changes to the way children’s social care is delivered in West Sussex are on the way as the county looks to improve its rating from ‘adequate’ to ‘good’.
A £500,000 academy for training newly qualified social workers is amongst West Sussex County Council’s ambitious plans as it looks to reduce staff case loads and ‘burn outs’.
Annie MacIver, the council’s interim director of family operations, gave a presentation on the redesign to the children and young people’s services select committee meeting in Chichester on Wednesday, April 15.
Ms MacIver said nationally there was a serious shortage of social workers, particularly those with experience, which was reflected in West Sussex. “The average life-span of a social worker is around eight years before they burn out,” she said.
Staff were facing ever increasing workloads, she said, and dealing with complex cases, made worse by the national focus on guarding against child sexual exploitation. The new service would ‘tackle head on’ the ‘worrying’ issue of retaining social workers, she said.
The council’s children’s social care staff have already been allocated new roles and under the new system will be working to a new ‘pod group model’, with more practice managers and advanced practitioners in place and more than one social worker knowing a particular child.
Newly qualified social workers will also be given better training through a new £520,000 ‘academy model’, and support staff would take on much of the administrative work to free up more of their time. “Social workers want to spend more time with children and their families but are currently spending their time doing other things which take them away from their key roles,” Ms MacIver said.
“The current system is complex and overlapping and has a number of pressure points. In the future staff will have a clear idea of what their job should be and families will be able to get the help they need earlier.”
The children’s social care service in West Sussex is currently rated by Ofsted as ‘adequate’ and the aim is improve that to ‘good’ at the next inspection.
Among the ‘risks’ identified were that Ofsted could arrive during the transition period, while there was an increased cost of taking on more expensive agency staff in the interim and staff morale could be affected.
Members largely welcomed the new service, which was due to go live on the day of the meeting but have been temporarily delayed.
The committee agreed to support both the redesign of the new service and the seeking of funding for the new academy.
Speaking afterwards, Peter Evans, cabinet member for children - start of life, said: “The redesign of services is long overdue and what has kept me awake at night is that we might not be doing the very best for our vulnerable children.
“These changes are a major step in the right direction of protecting those children while reducing the case loads on social workers who do an extremely challenging job.”