Social worker shortages

Recruiting and retaining children’s social workers is becoming increasingly challenging.

Children’s social workers do an incredible job in extremely challenging circumstances. Thanks to their dedication and the work of a range of partners, England is one of the safest places in the world for children to grow up.

However, councils are facing a staffing crisis in children’s social care, with the number of children and family social workers quitting their jobs at a five-year high, potentially putting thousands of young people at risk.

The latest workforce data shows the number of children’s social workers leaving their roles in 2021 was 4,995, an increase of 16 per cent on the previous year. The number of vacancies is also at its highest in five years – with 6,522 positions available as of 30 September 2021, climbing 7 per cent from the year before.

This reflects both the impact of the pandemic and the increasing challenges of social work roles as a result of rising demand for, and falling investment in, the services children and their families need.

The latest Employer Standards for Social Workers survey, managed by the LGA, found that – while a majority (67 per cent) of children’s social workers were satisfied with the employment deal offered by the profession – 77 per cent reported an increased severity of caseloads.

Three out of five reported usually having a satisfactory level of control over workload and the resources needed to fulfil their responsibilities, while just 56 per cent had the time, resources, opportunities and support to undertake continuing professional development (CPD).

The LGA is calling for children’s services to be adequately funded so that councils have the resources to ensure social workers receive the recognition, support and reward they deserve, and to fund the family help services social workers need to refer families to.

Well-resourced children’s social care teams can also allow social workers to work more flexibly, which we know is important in retaining our staff.

We need to see more bursaries, funding for returner schemes to help people who have had a career break get back into social work, and conversion pathways for people working in care who could step up to a social work role.

The LGA has estimated that mounting pressures on children’s social care mean future costs are set to increase by an estimated £600 million each year until 2024/25, with more than 8 in 10 councils already in the unsustainable position of having to overspend their budgets.

Despite some additional funding announced in last year’s Spending Review, councils are having to make exceptionally difficult spending decisions, including for some the need to move funding away from family help and other early intervention services to protect those children at most immediate risk of harm.

Councils want to be able to provide the very best support for children, which is why we are urging government to work with us on these urgent funding and workforce issues, as part of a child-centred, cross-government pandemic recovery plan that offers the very best future for children and families.


See for the latest figures on the children’s social care workforce. The LGA provides a range of free and subsidised support to councils on improving children’s services, including support for lead members. For more information, please visit


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