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Revealed: West Midlands councils are 650 social workers short

Sandwell | News | Published:

Councils in the West Midlands need to recruit more than 650 social workers, as authorities rely on agency staff to cover empty posts – new figures have revealed.

Walsall is the worst affected area, with one in four social worker roles vacant, and 73 per cent of gaps being temporarily filled by agency staff.

The authority employs 128 social workers but has 48 vacancies – with 35 being filled by agency staff. In 2014, it had 139 social workers.

Councillor Mike Bird, leader of Walsall Council, said the figures were 'worrying' but added that the authority was recruiting.

He said: "It is very disappointing but we are having trouble recruiting the staff, not just us but across the whole of the West Midlands.

"We are currently advertising for some 20 roles but unfortunately they are not applying. Being a social worker is a very difficult job, if you get a decision wrong once then it is career over and I think some of the high-profile cases we have seen recently have had an effect. It is a worrying time but we are advertising."

In Dudley, there are 154 social workers, down from 157 in 2014. The borough has 44 vacancies – 40 of which are being covered by agency staff.

In Wolverhampton, the council needs to recruit some 28 social workers, with all vacant positions currently filled by agency workers. The council employs 156 social workers, down from 163.

Sandwell has the fewest vacancies in the region, with 19.

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It has agency staff filling 17 positions, along with 185 already employed social workers.

The number of social workers it employs bucks the trend across the rest of the Black Country with an increase of 13 from 2014's 172.

In Staffordshire, the county has 383 social workers, an increase on 374 in 2014. The county has a massive 78 vacancies, with nine of these gaps currently filled by agency workers.

In the figures released by the Department of Education, it also shows the turnover rate of social workers from September 2014 to September 2015.

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Sandwell was the highest with 18 per cent, while Staffordshire was the lowest with eight per cent. Elsewhere Walsall and Dudley were at 14 per cent while Wolverhampton was at 15 per cent.

A spokesman for the NSPCC said: "Social workers play a vital role in protecting children in communities up and down the country and whilst high profile cases may be adding to the pressure felt by some in the profession, they also emphasise the essential role that social workers can play in preventing tragedies occurring.

"At a time when the number of referrals to external agencies is on the rise, local authorities need to ensure that any professional vacancies don't enable children who are in need of protection to slip through the net. In 2014/15, ChildLine made 3,714 referrals on behalf of 3,379 children to external agencies – a staggering 72 per cent increase on the previous year.

"In addition, the high turnover of social workers in some councils is a worrying trend.

"Vulnerable children can understandably have a range of complex problems as a result of abuse or neglect and often rely on consistent and familiar contact with child protection professionals."

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