Methodology

Children's social work workforce

Published

Background and coverage

Background

The information in this statistical release is based on data collected by the Department for Education in the annual statutory census collection on the children’s social work workforce. The census collects information from local authorities in England on the social workers and agency workers they employ within their children’s services department. 

The guide to submitting data provides information on how local authorities should collect and submit data to complete the children’s social work workforce census.

Children and family social workers are social workers registered with Social Work England (SWE), formerly the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), 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. 

Since 2013 the children’s social work workforce census has collected data for each full year ending 30 September. The latest collection covers the year from 1 October 2020 to 30 September 2021. Data has been collected on an individual social worker level basis since 2017, whereas from 2013 to 2017 it was collected at an aggregate (local authority) level. 

Prior to 2013, the primary source for information on the children and family social work workforce was the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care (NMDS-SC). This was a voluntary return. The last report on this data published by the department covered the workforce at December 2012 and used data returned by 68 out of the 152 local authorities. There has been a 100% response rate for each of the statutory collections since 2013.

These statistics have been published as official statistics since 2020, whereas in previous years they were classified as experimental statistics. More information on the code of practice for official statistics is available from the UK Statistics Authority.

Users should read all footnotes and caveats included in this publication to understand the practical applications and limitations of the data. In particular, comparisons with previous years should be done with caution, as any changes may in part be a result of improvements in data quality. Refer to the ‘Data Quality and Uses’ section for more information on data quality issues.

The information in this release is based only on data collected since 2017. Data for earlier years is published in the children's social work workforce statistics collection.

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

Coverage

The Children’s social work workforce census covers all local authorities in England and all children and family social workers employed by those local authorities.

Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames submit a joint return each year through Achieving for Children, a social enterprise company created by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames and the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames to provide their children’s services. As a result of this arrangement their data cannot be broken down to an individual local authority level and is instead reported together against Kingston upon Thames. This arrangement has no impact on the regional and national totals included in this publication.

Northamptonshire local authority was replaced with two new unitary authorities, North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire, in April 2021. Data for both unitary authorities combined was submitted by North Northamptonshire in the 2021 census and is reported against North Northamptonshire in this statistics publication. North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire should be able to make separate census returns in 2022.

Data collection and cleaning

Data collection

Local authorities are required by the Department for Education (the department) to collect and return individual level data on children and family social workers in post at 30 September, and starters and leavers during the year ending 30 September. Some data items are not included in the statistical release, because of concerns over data quality; more information on this is provided in the ‘Data Quality and Uses’ section. Information on the data items collected in the census, including those collected on a voluntary basis, is provided in the guide to submitting data.

Data was collected at an individual social worker level and figures in this statistics publication are shown on both a headcount and full-time equivalent basis. The only exceptions to this are the number of vacancies (FTE) and the number of FTE agency workers covering vacancies that were collected at an aggregate (local authority) level.

Data cleaning

Local authorities submit their data to the department through the secure COLLECT (collections online for learning, education, children and teachers) data collection system. This data is stored securely by the department and access to it is restricted to a small number of officials prior to publication. 

The department carries out validation checks, including those that are built into the data collection system, and additional credibility checks that make comparisons between the data collected for the current year and the previous year. The validation checks built into the data collection system enable local authorities to identify errors and discrepancies, and clean their data before it is submitted to the department. 

Throughout the data collection local authorities were encouraged to check and, where necessary, correct errors and discrepancies within their data. All local authorities were asked to provide comments against any validation queries in their data and to confirm that the data submitted was accurate.

Definitions

Children and family social workers

Children and family social workers are social workers registered with Social Work England (SWE), formerly the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), 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. 

Headcount

Headcount is a count of all individual social workers regardless of their working pattern. In instances where a social worker holds more than one post, only one post (the more senior role where applicable) is counted to avoid duplication. 

For headcount at 30 September of the reporting year, duplicates are removed based on local authority, Social Work England (formerly Health and Care Professions Council) identifier, date of birth, gender and ethnicity. This provides a count of the number of individual social workers regardless of their working pattern. 

For starters during the year duplicates are removed based on local authority, Social Work England identifier, date of birth, gender, ethnicity and start date.

For leavers during the year duplicates are removed based on local authority, Social Work England identifier, date of birth, gender, ethnicity and leaving date.

Duplicate records for agency workers are not removed, with each record regarded as a separate individual. 

Full-time Equivalent (FTE)

Duplicates are not removed from full-time equivalent (FTE) figures. FTEs are derived by aggregating the total number of hours that staff are contracted to work and dividing by the standard hours for their grade. In this way, part-time staff are converted into an equivalent number of ‘full-time’ staff. This allows for meaningful comparisons of measures such as caseload across local authorities.

FTE figures exclude social workers for whom FTE information was missing or not known; this was 0.6% of children and family social workers in post at 30 September 2021, compared to 0.3% in 2020 and 1.0% in 2017.

Starters

Starters are social workers who joined a vacant children and family 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. Similarly, social workers returning from maternity or sick leave are not counted as starters. 

Refer to the data quality section for details of data quality issues regarding this measure.  

Leavers

Leavers are social workers who left a children and family 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.

Cases

A case is defined as any person allocated to a named social worker, where the work involves child and family social work. This may include:  

  • an individual child allocated to a social worker (for example, a family of three siblings where each child is allocated to a social worker counts as three individual cases) including those on a child protection plan, children in need, fostering and adoption cases and care leavers
  • a carer or carers allocated to a social worker for the purposes of fostering or adoption.

Cases may be held by social workers regardless of their role in the organisation and not just those specifically in a ‘case  holder’ role.

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.

Some local authorities have raised issues around reporting the ‘number of cases held at 30 September’ data item and linking cases to social workers at an individual level. 

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

Sickness absence

Sickness absence is the number of working days missed due to sickness absence during the year ending 30 September. It is possible that this measure of sickness absence does not give a full picture of capacity shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic; for example, workers may be working from home whilst shielding and unable to carry out face to face work. 

The Vulnerable children and young people survey has been collecting information on social workers unavailable to work due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Vacancies

The number of FTE vacancies within the local authority at 30 September. This is an aggregate (local authority-level) number collected by the local authority.

Age and gender

Age and gender breakdowns are provided at both FTE and headcount for:  

  • Social workers in post at 30 September
  • Starters
  • Leavers

Age is derived from the date of birth provided in the census and is age at 30 September of the reporting year. Gender is taken from the data item collected in the census.

Ethnicity

Ethnicity groups are based on the ethnic origin data item collected in the census and are provided on a headcount basis.

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.

Children and family social workers whose ethnicity was recorded as Chinese are included in the ‘Asian’ ethnic group for each of the three years (2019, 2020 and 2021) of the role by ethnicity data, which is published for the first time this year.

Time in service at local authority

Time in service is derived from ‘Role Start Date’, which is collected in the census and is a measure of time in service in a children and family social worker role at the social worker's current local authority.

Time in service breakdowns are provided for both FTE and headcount for:  

  • Social workers in post at 30 September
  • Leavers

Calculations of Headcount and Full-time Equivalent (FTE) measures

Number of social workers in post at 30 September

A count of the number of social workers in post at 30 September of the reporting year by headcount and FTE. This measure includes all social workers with a role start date before 30 September and either no end date or an end date on or after 30 September. It does not include agency workers, who are covered separately within the publication. If a social worker left their post on the 30 September they are counted as both in post and as a leaver during the reporting year.

Number of social worker starters during year ending 30 September

A count of the number of social workers with a start date during the year ending 30 September, by headcount and FTE. The calculation for FTE starter figures is based on FTE at 30 September of the reporting year.

Refer to the ‘Definitions’ section for more information on the definition of a starter.

Number of social worker leavers during year ending 30 September

A count of the number of social workers with a leaving date during the year ending 30 September by headcount and FTE. The calculation for FTE leaver figures is based on FTE at 30 September of the previous reporting year; for leavers during the year ending 30 September 2021 this is their FTE at 30 September 2020. 

Refer to the ‘Definitions’ section for more information on the definition of a leaver.

Time in service at local authority

For social workers in post at 30 September, time in service is calculated as the time in years from when the worker started in a children and family social worker role at the local authority to 30 September of the reporting year.

For social workers who left their post during the year, time in service is calculated as the time in years from when the worker started in a children and family social worker role at the local authority to the date they left a children and family social worker role at the local authority.

Number of agency workers in post at 30 September

A count of the number of agency workers at 30 September of the reporting year. Data is collected only on those agency workers in post at the 30 September and does not include those who left during the year.

Number of agency workers covering vacancies

This is an aggregate (local authority-level) number collected by the local authority, at both FTE and headcount level.

Average caseload per FTE

The average caseload per FTE children and family social worker is calculated by taking the total number of cases held by each children and family social worker (including agency workers), divided by the number of FTE children and family social workers  (including agency workers) who have a number of cases greater than zero. 

Caseload data from 2017 onwards is not directly comparable with that for earlier years, due to methodology differences.

The following rates are multiplied by 100 and shown as a percentage in the accompanying statistics publication.

Sickness absence rate (FTE)

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 rate for a leap year is based on 254 working days.

Agency worker rate (FTE and headcount)

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 at 30 September. 

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

Turnover rate (FTE and headcount)

The FTE turnover rate is calculated as the number of FTE children and family social workers leaving a children and family social work role in their current local authority in the year, divided by the number of FTE social workers in post at the 30 September.

The headcount turnover rate is calculated as the number of headcount children and family social workers leaving a children and family social work role in their current local authority in the year, divided by the number of headcount social workers in post at the 30 September. 

Refer to the ‘Definitions’ section for more information on the definition of leavers.

Vacancy rate (FTE)

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

Agency workers covering vacancies rate (FTE)

The rate of FTE agency workers covering vacancies at 30 September is calculated as the number of FTE agency workers divided by the number of FTE vacancies at 30 September. Where a local authority has reported more than one agency worker covering the same vacancy, this rate may exceed 100%.

Data Quality and Uses

Data quality

The quality of the data has improved since the first collection of individual social worker data in 2017.  This is mainly due to improved guidance and data validation, and the work undertaken by local authorities to provide accurate data in their census return.

Quality assurance checks have been carried out at each stage of the data collection and production cycle of the statistical publication. Anomalous data were highlighted and verified by contacting the local authority and late returns pursued to ensure overall response was as complete and accurate as possible.

The data collection included validation checks, as covered in the data collection and cleaning section. All local authorities were asked to provide comments on the return relating to any validation queries and, where applicable, asked to confirm that  year on year changes were valid.

The majority of local authorities derive their children and family social work workforce data from their management information systems. This data requires checking and managerial sign off before it is submitted. However, the department does not collect information on the specific data checks carried out by local authorities. 

Some known data quality issues are listed below:

Comparisons between years

Since 2013 the children’s social work workforce census has collected data for each full year ending 30 September. Data has been collected on an individual social worker level basis since 2017, whereas from 2013 to 2017 it was collected at an aggregate (local authority) level. Prior to 2013, the primary source for information on the children and family social work workforce was the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care (NMDS-SC), which was a voluntary return. The changes to the data collection mean the statistics are not directly comparable over time.

Data quality has continued to improve since the introduction of the individual level collection, with local authorities becoming more familiar with the return and their data collection systems better placed to provide the data. Furthermore, the department has improved the guidance and validation checks for the data collection. Year on year comparisons therefore may not represent true changes in the number of children and family social workers  (and associated measures) and may in part be a result of improved reporting.

There are known discrepancies between the years, for example: we would expect that the headcount of staff at 30 September 2020 plus the starters for 30 September 2021 minus the leavers would give the headcount at 30 September 2021. However, this is not the case for a number of local authorities and be due to improved reporting over time, or differences in how the department’s guidance has been interpreted across different years. 

As a result of the above issues any comparisons between years should be treated with a degree of caution.

 
Starters

The number of starters during the year is derived from the date a social worker started in a children and family social worker role at a local authority.

Some local authorities have reported that they have recorded start dates when an employee has moved children and family social worker posts within the same local authority. However, a start date should only be recorded where the person is a new children and family social worker: this includes child and family social workers who joined a vacant child and family social worker post at a new local authority and social workers who have previously worked in the same local authority, but in a non-child and family social worker role. It should not include a move or promotion from one child and family social work position to another child and family social work position within the same local authority.

As a result the number of starters reported in this publication may be higher than the actual number, as moves or promotions from one child and family social work position to another child and family social work position within the same local authority may be included in the figures in some instances.

Duplicate records

Duplicates have been removed at a headcount level to account for cases where individuals have split roles; this avoids double counting. At FTE level, duplicates have not been removed so that the FTE for each role is captured.

There are some instances where the sum of the FTE for a social worker undertaking split roles is greater than 1. In this case the FTE for some local authorities may be greater than the headcount figure. 

FTE

There were some records returned in the census where the FTE of the children and family social worker was recorded as zero. These children and family social workers are included in the headcount statistics. However they are excluded from the FTE count, since their  FTE value is zero. In some instances, local authorities have reported that these children and family social workers were working on a zero hour contract or casual basis and therefore did not have an FTE. 

The number of FTE children and family social workers at 30 September reported in this publication is therefore likely to undercount the actual total.

In 2021, 0.6% of records for children and family social workers in post at 30 September had an FTE value of zero, compared to 0.3% in 2020 and 1.0% in 2017.

FTE leavers

The FTE at 30 September of the previous year was recorded as zero for some children and family social workers who left their post during the year. The information is required to calculate FTE for leavers. This means while these workers are included in the headcount of leavers, they are excluded from the FTE count of leavers, as their FTE leaver value is zero. 

The number of FTE leavers reported in this publication is therefore likely to undercount the actual total.

In the year ending 30 September 2021, 6.6% of leavers had a value of zero recorded for their FTE at 30 September of the previous reporting year, compared to 5.4% in 2020 and 7.7% 2017.

The missing information also affects the turnover rate at an FTE level, as these leavers are not included in the calculation.

Gaps and inconsistenciesLocal authorities may not be able to provide a complete and consistent set of data for all statutory data variables. In this case data is shown as not available (denoted by ‘:’) within the data files.

Data items not included in the statistical publication 

Some data items collected in the children’s social work workforce census are not included in this statistical release because of low response rates or concerns regarding the quality of the data. These are data items that are relatively new to the data collection or collected on a voluntary basis. We will work to improve the quality of this data, including making voluntary items mandatory, with a view to publishing information in future releases.

Mandatory data items:

Reason for leaving

Almost  three quarters (72%)  of FTE leavers in the year ending 30 September 2021 resigned their post as children family and social workers, which was relatively unchanged from 73% in 2020.

Destination of leaver

Information on destination was recorded as ‘not known’ or ‘not yet collected’ for over three quarters (77%) of leavers in the year ending 30 September 2021, which was relatively unchanged from 2020.

Origin when started

This item collects data on the child and family social worker’s situation prior to commencing employment in a children and family social worker post at a local authority. Information was reported for all starters, however for over two thirds (67%) of FTE starters in the year ending 30 September 2021 it was recorded as ‘not known’ or ‘not yet collected’, relatively unchanged from 2020.

Qualification level

This item collects data on highest qualification level information and was known for over 99% of children and family social workers in post on 30 September 2021. Of those, 44% were recorded as having an undergraduate degree which qualified them to work as a social worker, 30% a postgraduate degree and 26% other. However, some local authorities have reported difficulty in providing this data item, with 19 recording all social workers against one category. This data item is therefore not included in the statistical release.

Frontline and step up graduates

There were 552 FTE frontline graduates in post at 30 September 2021, compared to 492 at the same point in 2020.

There were 805 FTE step up graduates in post at 30 September 2021, compared to 610 at the same point in 2020.

Voluntary data items:

Absent on 30 September

Information on absence at 30 September 2021 was not known for over one third (37%) of FTE children and family social workers who were in post at 30 September 2021; the same as in 2020.

Reason for absence

Of the 2,330 FTE children and family social workers who were recorded as absent on 30 September 2021, 26% were on maternity leave; down from 32% at the same point in 2020. A further 37% were recorded as being sick and 35% on other paid authorised absence (for example, compassionate leave or annual leave), compared to 30% and 37% respectively in 2020. 

Knowledge and skills statement

Knowledge and skills statement information was not known for 82% of FTE children and family social workers in post at 30 September 2021. 

Qualifying institution

This item collects data on the institution where the children and family social worker obtained their qualification and was known for less than half (42%) of children and family social workers in post at 30 September 2021. 

Length of current post/assignment (agency workers only)

Information on the length of current post or assignment (in weeks) was known for 63% of FTE agency workers in post at 30 September 2021, down from 69% in 2020, but up from 52% in 2019.

Uses of the data

The main internal users of these statistics are officials within the department, who use the information to provide advice to ministers on current and future policies. 

The main external users of these statistics are local authorities, who use the information to compare the statistics for their own local authority with national and regional statistics, and benchmark their statistics against those of other local authorities. Ofsted and the Children's Commissioners office for England also use the statistics.

Confidentiality and rounding

The Code of Practice for Statistics requires we take reasonable steps to ensure that our published or disseminated statistics protect confidentiality. Suppression of small numbers has therefore been applied to the data, where it is applicable to do so.  

The following rounding conventions have been used: 

  • In the main text, figures for FTEs and headcounts have been rounded to the nearest 100 or whole number. Rates and percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number or to one decimal place.
  • In the underlying data, figures for FTEs, rates and percentages have been rounded to one decimal place. Headcounts are reported to the nearest whole number.

The following suppression conventions have been used:  

  • c  Where necessary we have replaced figures with a ‘c’ to preserve confidentiality. Secondary suppression may also be applied to preserve confidentiality.
  • 0 Where any number is shown as zero (0), the original figure submitted was zero.
  • z  Not applicable
  • :  Not available

These conventions are consistent with the department’s Statistical policy statement on confidentiality.

Children in need and child protection: statistics on children referred to and assessed by children's social services.

Children looked after in England including adoptions: statistics on children under local authority care.

Vulnerable children and young people survey: summary of local authority survey data in England to help understand the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on children’s social care.

Annexes

Regional adoption agencies

A regional adoption agency (RAA) is a shared adoption service for several local authorities, working with Voluntary Adoption Agencies and other partners to deliver a system wide approach. RAAs were introduced with the aim that a larger service would be more efficient and effective than a fragmented system of smaller services in each local authority. At the time of the 2021 children’s social work workforce census 31 RAAs, covering over 140 local authorities, had gone live. Where the RAA is hosted by a local authority and staff have been transferred, the social workers working within the RAA are recorded against the host local authority in the children’s social work workforce data census.

RAA Name Go Live DateLAs within the RAAHost LA
One Adoption West YorkshireApril 2017Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield Leeds
Adoption CountsJuly 2017Stockport, Cheshire East, Manchester, Salford and TraffordStockport
AspireJuly 2017Dorset, Bournemouth, Christchurch & PooleBournemouth
Together for AdoptionSeptember 2017Wigan, Cheshire West & Chester, Halton, St Helens and WarringtonWigan
Adoption NoWNovember 2017Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale and TamesideBolton
Adoption Thames ValleyDecember 2017Oxfordshire, Bracknell Forest, Reading, Swindon, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead and WokinghamOxfordshire
Adopt Central England February 2018Warwickshire, Coventry, Solihull, Worcestershire and HerefordshireWarwickshire
One Adoption North Yorkshire and HumberMarch 2018Kingston-Upon-Hull, East Riding, North East Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire and City of YorkYork
AIMApril 2018Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton and WirralKnowsley
Adopt Tees ValleyMay 2018Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and StocktonStockton
Adopt South WestOctober 2018Devon, Somerset, Plymouth and TorbayDevon
Adopt North East December 2018Gateshead, Newcastle, South Tyneside, North Tyneside and NorthumberlandNorth Tyneside 
Adoption WestMarch 2019Bath North and East Somerset, Bristol, Gloucestershire, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and WiltshireLocal Authority Trading Company (LATC) led
Adopt SouthApril 2019Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton Hampshire
Adoption Connects April 2019Central Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes Central Bedfordshire
Adoption @ HeartApril 2019Dudley, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and WalsallWolverhampton
Adoption East MidlandsMarch 2019Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Nottinghamshire
Ambitious for AdoptionMay 2019City of London, Harrow, Redbridge, Bromley, Waltham Forest, Hillingdon, Westminster, Slough and Kensington & ChelseaVAA led
Adopt London SouthSeptember 2019Croydon, Kingston Upon Thames, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Richmond Upon Thames, Southwark, Sutton and Wandsworth Southwark
Adopt London WestSeptember 2019Brent, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham and HounslowEaling
Adopt London EastOctober 2019Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Newham and Tower HamletsHavering
Adopt London North October 2019Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey and Islington Islington
Adopt South EastApril 2020Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, Surrey, West SussexEast Sussex
Blackpool & LancashireApril 2020Blackpool and LancashireLancashire
Together4ChildrenApril -September 2020Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent, Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin Staffordshire
Adopt EastOctober 2020Essex, Hertfordshire, Luton, Norfolk, Southend-On-Sea, Suffolk, Thurrock and Bedford BoroughPartnership
Family Adoption LinksOctober 2020Leicester, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and Rutland  Lincolnshire
Adoption Partnership South EastNovember 2020Bexley, Kent and MedwayKent
Cambridgeshire & Peterborough AdoptionDecember 2020Cambridgeshire and PeterboroughCambridgeshire
One Adoption South YorkshireJanuary 2021Doncaster, Barnsley, Rotherham and SheffieldDoncaster
Coast to CoastApril 2021Cumbria, Durham and Sunderland Partnership