SOCIAL Worker recruitment in the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole area is thought to be in the worst position it has ever been.

BCP’s children’s services is currently operating under the direction of the Secretary of the State after being rated inadequate across a number of areas.

Cathie Hadley, recently appointed director of children’s services, told the overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday that the service was struggling, both because of an international shortage of qualified social workers and because of the service’s rating – which compares badly with neighbouring Hampshire, rated outstanding, and Dorset, rated as good.

The council’s social workers are also said to have a higher case load than the neighbouring councils and higher than the national average, although the director described the situation as “reasonable” given the current constraints.

She told the meeting that if changes currently being put in place worked, as she believed they would, recruitment problems would then ease.

The meeting heard that eight social workers had recently been recruited from Rwanda, the best of an international group of 35 applicants. Ms Hadley said it had just been coincidence that the social workers from Rwanda were those which were chosen, the country having a similar framework for social work training. Other countries are currently being looked at to recruit from, although in social work circles there is criticism of the practise as it takes workers away from poorer countries where they are needed.

Ms Hadley said that for many social workers pay was not necessarily the driving factor and there were some who would welcome the challenge of working for an organisation rated as inadequate because it offered scope for creative and imaginative thinking about ways of working.

“We are looking at different ways of recruiting – growing our own, becoming an employer of choices, sometimes it is not about money, it could be working a 9-day fortnight,” said the director.

Many of the current vacancies are filled by agency workers, which not only costs the council more, but leads to uncertainty because agency workers are more likely to be mobile and move on at short notice if given a better offer.

The authority is hoping that a new partnership training approach with Bournemouth University and better support for aspiring managers will help attract more staff. A Partnership Academy, mainly online, is now up and running to support social worker training and development. The authority has also been trying a ‘grow your own’ approach to attracting social workers and introducing better on the job supervision for newly qualified staff as well as limiting case loads for those new to the job after finishing their studies. The 2021-22 budget allowed for a £3million spend on agency staff including 20 managers and 40 social workers, although the council has a policy to reduce agency staff numbers.

The overview and scrutiny meeting heard that the service would have its annual ‘conversation’ with Ofsted in the coming days and have another monitoring visit in June, although the exact date was not known. A report would come from that but was unlikely to be made available to the public.

The service is currently being assisted by senior social work staff from Hampshire to make the changes needed to reach the next rating, of “requires improvement.”