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Sandwell social workers paid extra £3,000 not to leave

Sandwell | Politics | Published:

Sandwell Children’s Trust is paying its social workers up to £3,000 on top of their normal salaries in order to hold on to experienced staff.

Sandwell Children’s Trust chairman Jacqui Smith

The trust revealed its pay hike as cabinet members met to discuss Ofsted’s latest findings since the trust took over the looked after children’s service in April.

The watchdog said the ‘instability’ of staff is a barrier to improvement in a letter following a monitoring visit in May.

Inspectors noted ‘an ambitious improvement plan has been developed, which sets out eight priority areas’.

But they went on to say: “Some long-standing barriers to improvement remain, most notably the instability of the workforce. Nearly a third of the workforce are agency or interim staff.

“This means that some children are having too many changes of social worker, which inhibits the development of trusting and meaningful relationships.”

Inspectors also found some caseloads were too high giving staff little time to do in-depth work with children.

“The trust recognises that action is required to combat this and is developing a renewed offer to social workers to attract and retain staff,” they added.

“The trust is also reviewing its structure and staffing levels to ensure manageable caseloads and strengthened management support.”

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Union Unison has said newly-qualified social worker starting salaries are around £22,000 a year, but nationally one in five leave the profession within five years, making local authorities reliant on expensive agency staff.

Jacqui Smith, chair of the children’s trust, speaking before Wednesday’s meeting, said: “We launched our 12 Reasons to Work in Sandwell Children’s Trust in July. Since then, we have seen an increase in applications to become permanent staff.

“The 12 reasons include a number of retention and recruitment initiatives. This goes beyond pay and also includes training and development, working conditions and work-life balance.

“We are aiming for a target of at least 80 per cent of our workforce being permanent staff and we are making good progress towards that.

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“We now have 15 per cent fewer agency staff than when the trust was set up in April. Three out of four social workers are now employed permanently by the trust.”

The trust offers a £2,500 per annum market supplement to attract and retain social workers in hard to recruit areas. There is also an end-of-year £500 payment for some.

By George Makin, Local Democracy Reporter

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