Reporting Year 2021

Children's social work workforce

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Introduction

This release provides information about children and family social workers and agency social workers employed in local authorities.  

The information is based on data collected in an annual census from local authorities in England. The latest collection covers the year from 1 October 2020 to 30 September 2021.

Children and family social workers are social workers registered with Social Work England (SWE) working in a local authority in a children’s services department or, if working in an authority where the services are joined up, a social worker that works primarily on children and families work. Figures are shown on both a full-time equivalent (FTE) and headcount basis. 

This is the second data release in this series impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

A time series of national, regional and local authority breakdowns of the data is available in the ‘Explore Data and Files’ section.


Headline facts and figures - 2021

  • The number of FTE children and family social workers and agency workers both increased to the highest level in the last five years (comparable figures available from 2017).
  • There were 5,000 FTE leavers in 2021, the highest in the series and up by 16% compared to last year.
  • This increase in leavers may have contributed to a rise in the number of vacancies, which at 6,500 was also the highest number in the last five years.
  • Caseloads remained stable at an average of 16.3 cases per social worker in 2021, but were down from an average of 16.9 in 2019.
  • The sickness absence rate increased to 3.1% from 2.9% a year earlier, back to pre-pandemic levels and at the five year average. The sickness absence data in these statistics do not necessarily provide the full picture of capacity shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, as some staff would have been self-isolating or shielding and unable to carry out face to face work.

Explore data and files

All data used in this release is available as open data for download


Open data

Browse and download individual open data files from this release in our data catalogue


Guidance

Learn more about the data files used in this release using our online guidance


Create your own tables

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Children and family social workers

Number of social workers

There were 32,500 full-time equivalent (FTE) children and family social workers in post at 30 September 2021, an increase of 2% compared to the same point in 2020. The corresponding headcount also increased by 2% from last year, to 34,700. These increases continue the upward trend seen in recent years, with both the FTE and headcount measures being the highest reported in the last five years (comparable figures available from 2017). 

Age and gender of social workers

In 2021, 55% of FTE children and family social workers were between 30 and 49 years of age, with 16% aged 20 to 29 and 7% aged 60 years or over; a similar distribution to last year. 

At 87%, the overwhelming majority of social workers were female. This is higher than the 75% seen in the teaching profession (1) and the 45% seen in other professional occupations (2). 

(1) School Workforce in England, 2020: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/school-workforce-in-england/2020

(2) Based on estimates from www.nomisweb.co.uk of the Annual Population Survey, October 2020 to September 2021. Major groups ‘managers, directors and senior officials’ and ‘professional occupations’, from the 2010 SOC (Standard Occupational Classification), were used. 

Time in service at local authority

The overall distribution of time in service for social workers was similar to last year. At 30 September 2021, three out of five (60%) social workers had been in service at their current local authority for less than 5 years.

Social worker role

A case holder is a children and family social worker that manages cases, but is not in a senior manager, middle manager, first line manager or senior practitioner role.

Just under half (48%) of children and family social workers were reported as being in a case holder role, down from 51% in 2020.

The percentage of social workers that were qualified without cases was relatively unchanged from last year at 13%, but is down from 15% in 2017.

Ethnic origin

From 2021 onwards children and family social workers whose ethnicity was recorded as Chinese have been included in the ‘Asian’ ethnic group, whereas previously they were included in the ‘other ethnic group'. As a result of this change, 2021 data for these two ethnic groups is not directly comparable with earlier years.

Ethnicity was known for 81% of children and family social workers in 2021. Of these, 23% were ethnic minorities (excluding white minorities), up from 20% in 2017. This change is mainly due to an increase in social workers from Black ethnic groups. 

At 23%, the proportion of ethnic minorities (excluding white minorities) is greater than the 9% seen in the teaching profession (1) and the 15% seen in professional occupations (2). However, it is lower than the 29% of children in need (3) that are recorded as being from ethnic minorities (excluding white minorities).

(1) School Workforce in England, 2020: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/school-workforce-in-england/2020.

(2) Based on estimates from www.nomisweb.co.uk of the Annual Population Survey, October 2020 to September 2021, where ethnicity was known. Major groups ‘managers, directors and senior officials’ and ‘professional occupations’, from the 2010 SOC (Standard Occupational Classification), were used. 

(3) Characteristics of children in need, 2021: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/characteristics-of-children-in-need. The majority of children in need have a children and family social worker allocated to their episode of need.

Agency workers

Calculation of the FTE agency worker rate

The FTE agency worker rate is calculated as the number of FTE agency staff working as social workers at 30 September divided by the sum of the number of FTE agency staff working as social workers at 30 September and the number of FTE social workers. 

There were nearly 6,000 FTE agency children and family social workers at 30 September 2021, up by 3% from 5,800 in 2020 and the highest number reported in the last five years. 

Despite these rises, the agency worker rate was relatively unchanged from last year at 15.5%.

Just over three quarters (76.3%) of agency social workers were covering vacancies, a similar rate to last year. As in previous years, this rate varied considerably between local authorities. Some local authorities reported that none of their agency workers were covering vacancies, while others reported all of their agency workers were covering vacancies. 

In situations where agency workers are not covering vacancies they may be employed by a local authority to manage seasonal peaks, or deal with acute backlogs, as an alternative to employing social workers on a permanent basis. 

Caseload

Cases

A case is defined as any person allocated to a named social worker, where the work involves child and family social work. Cases may be held by social workers regardless of their role in the organisation and not just those specifically in a ‘case  holder’ role.

Average caseload calculation

The caseload is calculated as the total number of cases held by FTE social workers  (including agency workers) in post at the 30 September divided by the number of FTE social workers (including agency workers) at 30 September that hold one or more cases.

There were 335,500 cases held by 20,500 FTE children and family social workers and agency workers at 30 September 2021. This is equivalent to an average caseload of 16.3 and is unchanged from last year, but down from 16.9 in 2019. 

The number of cases held is typically smaller than the number of children in need at 31 March. This may be explained by a number of factors, including different count dates for the data collections and variance in the interpretation of the department’s guidance. 

The collection of individual level data for the past five years enables us to calculate an average caseload measure. However, it should be noted that over this period local authorities have reported some difficulties in linking cases to the social worker holding those cases.

The above issues should be taken into consideration when interpreting caseload figures.

Vacancies

Vacancies

For the purpose of this collection vacancies are defined as any FTE vacancy within a local authority’s organisational structure, including vacancies that are not being actively recruited for, and those covered by agency workers. 

Calculation of the vacancy rate 

The vacancy rate is calculated as the number of FTE vacancies at 30 September divided by the sum of the number of  FTE vacancies at 30 September and the number of FTE social workers at 30 September. 

There were 6,500 FTE children and family social worker vacancies at 30 September 2021, an increase of 7% from 6,100 at the same point in 2020 and the highest number in the last five years. The corresponding vacancy rate increased to 16.7%, from 16.1% in 2020 and was the highest rate since 2017.

Overall, 69.9% of vacancies were covered by agency workers in 2021, down from 74.1% last year. 

Sickness absence

Calculation of the sickness absence rate

The sickness absence rate is calculated as the number of days missed due to sickness absence during the year divided by the number of FTE social workers at 30 September multiplied by 253 days (the number of working days in a non-leap year, taking account of bank holidays). 

The sickness absence rate for children and family social workers in the year ending 30 September 2021 was 3.1%, up from 2.9% in 2020, but stable compared with 2019.

The sickness absence data in these statistics do not necessarily provide the full picture of capacity shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, as some staff would have been self-isolating or shielding and unable to carry out face to face work.

Starters and leavers at the local authority

Number of starters and leavers at the local authority

Starters

Starters are social workers who joined a vacant social worker post at a local authority in the year ending 30 September. This includes social workers who have previously worked in the same local authority, but in a non-child and family social worker role, and children and family social workers joining from another local authority.

A move or promotion from one child and family social work position to another within the same local authority is not counted as a starter. Social workers returning from maternity or sick leave are not counted as starters. 

As in recent years, there were more children and family social worker starters than leavers, but the gap between the two continued to narrow.

There were 5,500 FTE children and family social worker starters in the year ending 30 September 2021, an increase of 6% compared to 2020. 

Leavers

Leavers are social workers who left a social worker post at a local authority in the year ending 30 September. This includes social workers who are staying at a local authority, but moving to a non-child and family role, for example moving to adult social care, and those continuing as children’s social workers but moving to a different local authority.

Leavers also include social workers who have begun a career break, those seconded out of an organisation or those leaving the profession altogether. They do not include social workers who have started maternity or sick leave.

A move or promotion from one children’s social work position to another children’s social work position within a local authority is not counted as a leaver, unless the social worker left employment at the local authority in between these roles.

The number of FTE leavers during the year also increased, but at a faster rate and was up by 16% from last year to nearly 5,000; the highest number reported in the last five years.

Turnover rate

The turnover rate is calculated as the number of FTE social workers leaving a social work role in the year divided by the number of FTE social workers in post at the 30 September.

The increase in leavers meant the FTE turnover rate rose to 15.4% in 2021, from 13.5% in 2020. This was the highest rate reported in the last five years. 

Age of starters and leavers

As might be expected, a greater proportion of starters (30%) were aged 20 to 29 years compared to leavers (16%), whereas a greater proportion of leavers (29%) were aged 50 or over compared to starters (16%). For 30 to 49 year olds, a similar percentage were recorded as starters and leavers.

Time in service of leavers

Over one third (36%) of leavers in 2021 had been in post for 2 years or more but less than five years, up from 30% in 2017.  A third (33%) of leavers were in post for less than two years, which is relatively unchanged from 2017. During the same period, the proportion of leavers that had been in post for five years or more decreased from 37% to 31%.

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Methodology

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Official statistics

These are Official Statistics and have been produced in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

This can be broadly interpreted to mean that these statistics are:

  • managed impartially and objectively in the public interest
  • meet identified user needs
  • produced according to sound methods
  • well explained and readily accessible

Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.

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If you have a specific enquiry about Children's social work workforce statistics and data:

Children’s Services Statistics Team

Email
CSWW.STATS@education.gov.uk

Telephone: Mark Taylor
01325 340798

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