Difficulties in recruiting locally-qualified social workers in Children's Services are driving up costs for the government by nearly half a million a year as they resort to hiring from external agencies.
The annual cost of employing a children’s agency social worker is £82,875 - £20,705 more than the cost for a permanent children’s social worker, which includes employer pension and social security contributions.
The figures come from a recent response to a Freedom of Information request. It showed that, out of the 47 social work posts currently open, 23 are filled by permanent staff and 24 by agency staff.
The annual cost for the pool of agency workers would cost £1,989,000 per year, while it would cost £1,505,040, including overheads, if the roles were filled by permanent full time employees.
Pictured: Relying on agency workers is detrimental to the care of local children.
A Government of Jersey spokesperson explained that the cost of agency staff is made up of a hourly rate, which covers pay, holidays, National Insurance/Social Security and pension.
"The daily rate is normally higher than the same cost for a permanent employee because of the flexibility/ability of the employer to cancel services," they said. There is also a margin the employer pays to the sourcing agency and which varies dependent upon negotiated rates with the said agency.
Relying on agency workers is not only costly, but could pose problems for the island's youth, as the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry warned in its report. That warning was repeated on the report’s anniversary by Children’s Commissioner Deborah McMillan, who said that some young people had “had 10, 11 or 12 social workers” and 'Looked After Children', who have "had up to eight changes in Social Worker in a year".
Last July, Children’s Services officials said the high turnover of social workers in the island was due to a lack of experienced or appropriately trained local people, which led them to launch a £16,000 recruitment drive for 18 more social workers using UK media in 2017.
Video: Natalie Spooner, a team manager at Children's Sevices, has been a social worker for 17 years.
That recruitment effort has now been renewed, with Government officials last week announcing plans to build a highly-skilled workforce and end the Island’s reliance on temporary and agency staff.
Acknowledging the disruption for children and the significant level of costs and turnover the recruitment issues are causing, the Children's Minister, Senator Sam Mézec, said that staff from the Children, Young People, Education and Skills (CYPES) department will attend four UK social work recruitment fayres over the coming months.
“Research shows that social work recruitment fayres are a well-established and known means of attracting qualified social workers to apply for positions in local authorities and other jurisdictions," he explained.
Pictured: The new degree in Social Work will start at Highlands College in September.
A new degree in Social Work, run by University College Jersey at Highlands College, in partnership with the University of Sussex, is also due to start in September. The States invested £686,000 into the scheme to fund recruiting for, developing and delivering the course within the next four years.
Last year, Education Minister, Senator Tracey Vallois, said: “This is a significant investment by the government of Jersey that will ensure that by 2022 Jersey will have its own highly skilled on-island social work training unit. This offers further opportunities for those looking to move into a new career and additional consideration for those leaving further education to consider.
“We remain fully committed to not only taking on the recommendations of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry, but ensuring that Jersey’s children and young people receive appropriate help and support throughout their lives.”
Steve Lewis, Principal of Highlands said a number of applications have already been received for the course. The selection and recruitment process is due to take place during the second week in March.
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