‘Significant staffing challenges’ in children’s care homes with many leaving for retail work – Ofsted

Care workers in children’s homes are leaving for jobs in retail or hospitality as the social care sector faces “significant staffing challenges”, a report has concluded.

Staff shortages lead to local authorities not having enough places for children to live or enough workers in homes with the necessary skills, Ofsted said in its report into education and social care in England.

High staff turnover also adds to the lack of stability in the lives of children in care and increases the pressures and workloads on the staff who remain, the watchdog’s annual report stated.

It said: “Care workers in homes are often tempted away by alternative employment in retail or hospitality, while many local authorities increasingly rely on agency staff to make up their numbers of social workers.”

In the year to September 2021, 9% of all local authority children’s social workers left the sector – up from 7% the previous year, Ofsted said.

In the year to March, more than one-third (35%) of permanent care staff in children’s homes left their role, while in the same period almost half (44%) of permanent care staff were newly hired, the report said.

Between August 2019 and the same month this year, vacancies for registered managers of children’s homes rose from 9% to 14%.

Almost one-third (32%) of all children’s homes had a manager who, as of August 31, had been in the post less than a year, while the percentage for the 10 largest provider groups was slightly lower at 29%.

The report stated: “This very high turnover creates instability for children in care, as it reduces the chances of building relationships, which are important for wellbeing, stability and belonging.”

The report also noted that many social workers are moving into agency work for greater flexibility and higher pay, but this leads to local authorities having to then rely on agencies which cost more.

Ofsted warned that staff shortages create “significant challenges for the workers who do remain in the sector” adding that “the demands of an already challenging job can become unsustainable”.

Another issue with the use of agency workers, the report said, can be increased use of remote working as part of agreed terms and conditions and this “can affect the quality of relationships they build up with children and their level of local knowledge”.

Children’s homes are “scattered unevenly” and due to demand outstripping supply in many areas, young people are are often placed in unregistered homes because local authorities can find no alternatives, the report stated.

Ofsted said children with the most complex needs “are often the least well served in already overstretched systems”, noting that by the end of March this year, around 50 children considered a significant risk to themselves or others were waiting for a place in secure accommodation every day – almost double the previous year.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “To help ease the pressure on children’s services, we have trained thousands of new social workers, and are providing councils with £4.8 billion in new grant funding over the spending review period to 2025, to help maintain vital frontline services, including children’s social care and children’s homes.”

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