Children’s social worker shortage reaches five-year high

The Local Government Association is concerned that latest workforce data shows the number of social workers leaving their roles in 2021 was 4,995, an increase of 16 per cent on the previous year. 


Two boys looking out window

Vital services that protect vulnerable children from harm are facing a staffing crisis, 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, councils are warning today.

The Local Government Association is concerned that latest workforce data shows the number of 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.

The LGA, which represents councils, says this reflects both the impact of the pandemic and the increasing challenges of social work roles as a result of rising demand and falling investment in the services children and their families need.

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

Without this, councils will struggle to ensure vulnerable children are supported and protected from harm, and that families also get the help they might need.

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. Rising demand means that despite increasing their children’s social care budgets, councils are having to divert funding away from family help services to protect those children at most immediate risk of harm.

Councils are also concerned that, while other public facing roles like nursing and adult social care receive positive public recognition such as during the pandemic’s “Clap for Carers”, children’s social work does not have the same status, contributing to poor morale in the sector and challenges encouraging people to join the profession.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“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, as these statistics show, councils are facing a staffing crisis in children’s social care, and are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain children’s social workers, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. If this pattern is not swiftly reversed, this will ultimately put children at more risk.

“It is vital that children’s services are properly funded to ensure that social workers receive the right support and reward for the challenging work they do, and the services that children and families need are in place to provide additional support. 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 are keen to work with the Government on a plan to address these urgent workforce pressures and to ensure that children’s social workers receive the recognition, support and reward that they deserve.”

Notes to editors

There were 32,502 children and family social workers in employment as of 30 September 2021, and 5,977 agency workers.

View the full set of figures.