Some agency social workers ‘not able to do what they say they can’ says children’s services director

Sally Hodges answered questions from councillors just a couple of days after the critical Ofsted report
Sally Hodges answered questions from councillors just a couple of days after the critical Ofsted report

Some agency staff joining children’s services in Northamptonshire are not able to do the social care work required of them, according to the officer in charge.

Director of children’s services Sally Hodges said the county council was terminating the contracts of staff it didn’t feel were up to scratch and was aiming to employ ‘good quality’ permanent staff in a bid to turn its fortunes around.

She said some of the agency staff that the council has brought in have not been up to the required standard, telling councillors: “What some of these agency staff say they can do when they arrive, and what they can actually do, are very different. When we come across someone whose practices are unsafe, we will terminate their contracts.”

Ms Hodges, who started her job in February, was given a two-hour grilling by councillors on Wednesday (July 31), just a couple of days after an Ofsted inspection report found that children’s services in the county had become ‘inadequate’ once more.
One of the key lines of enquiry for the overview and scrutiny committee was the council’s inability to both recruit and retain its staff.

Councillor Jonathan Ekins told Ms Hodges he was ‘very disappointed’ by what he was hearing. Last year, Councillor Ekins carried out a review into social care worker retention on behalf of the committee.

He said “We haven’t made any progress since we discussed this last year. If anything we are going backwards. We have only had three admin staff recruited to support workers.

“One of the things to come out of a social worker open day was that the annual reviews don’t take place. We are also encouraging social workers to leave. If we are not training them or holding annual reviews, how are they going to improve?”

But Ms Hodges responded: “We do offer training to staff who have the potential to develop. What I will not have is the training of staff who don’t have that potential or whose practices are unsafe. We won’t have them in our organisation.”

Councillor Ekins questioned whether contracts with agency providers were, therefore, being terminated if these workers were unsafe, as the council should not be putting its looked after children at risk.

Mr Hodges replied: “We have been terminating contracts of staff that we don’t think are good enough. They are mainly agency staff I have to say, we’re not recruiting people who aren’t good enough permanently.”

A performance improvement plan seen by councillors indicated that there was still a ‘high percentage of agency staff social workers across the service’. But Ms Hodges told councillors that a new recruitment specialist had been employed to recruit permanent, good quality staff.

The Ofsted inspection, carried out at the end of June, found that there had been some improvements since a focused visit in October last year, but that the county was still ‘failing to keep children safe’.