January blog: Return to Social Work programme

The LGA has teamed up with the Government Equalities Office to reignite the Return to Social Work programme following its success in 2017.


Social workers and their support staff do one of the most important and rewarding jobs in local government. Yet, 74 per cent of councils report they have difficulty recruiting social workers, and as many as 60 per cent say they have issues with retention.

With almost 80,000 children in care and 1.9 million requests for adult social care received every year, hiring and retaining social workers is more important than ever.

The Return to Social Work programme offers councils a free and simple way to hire experienced social workers without the cost or time required to run a recruitment campaign themselves. It will carefully select 200 social workers who are currently on a career break, and provide them with free, high quality training so they can re-register with Social Work England and return to practice in councils.

Stephen Rice, a principal social worker in a council, notes the importance of social workers returning to the profession:

“We really need former social workers to come back to practice. We have really good programmes for graduates to help them become new social workers, but what we need more of is really experienced individuals. 

“Individuals, who hold the knowledge of doing the job, going into people’s homes and speaking to people. It’s invaluable and we really need them to come back.”
Figures from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development show that the average cost of replacing a qualified employee is £30,000. Recruiting and retraining 200 experienced social workers through the Return to Social Work programme could therefore collectively save councils approximately £6 million. 

The scheme’s success can be seen in the figures from the previous programmes. Following the initial pilot in 2016, 93 per cent of our 30 candidates successfully found employment. After doubling the number of candidates accepted onto the programme in 2017/18, 87 per cent of our 60 participants returned to work upon completion of the scheme.

Our previous participants report that they benefited both personally and professionally from the programme. You can read their stories below:


workforce January blog - Anjali quote
The programme helped me understand social work in today's context. More importantly it helped me regain my confidence." Anjali
I can truly and wholeheartedly say that the experience has been both life enhancing and life changing." Isabella
workforce January blog - Isabella quote
Workforce january blog Sia quote
I recommend this programme to anyone who is thinking of returning to social work, as it will equip them to thrive in the profession." Sia


With a proven record of success, the Return to Social Work programme is a unique and valuable opportunity for both councils and social workers.

How can councils get involved?

The programme is divided into two core stages for council participation:

  • Stage 1 – Placements: Councils will be asked to host placements for a minimum of 10 days between May and August 2020. Hosting placements will enable our candidates to meet the re-registration requirements of the regulator, and give employers the opportunity to assess their abilities before considering their suitability for any vacant posts.
  • Stage 2 – Interviews: Once our candidates have completed their placements, councils will have the opportunity to interview and recruit them into their vacant social worker positions.

To apply for the scheme, all councils need to do is click ‘sign up’ on our website, register themselves on our job vacancies site, and complete a short application form. The application form will ask them for information about their council and the number of candidates they would like to host during the placement stage.

If you belong to a council or know of any that would benefit from this programme, we invite you to view our employer information pack for a full overview of the programme. We have also developed a communications toolkit, with templates for multiple platforms, to make sharing the opportunity as easy as possible. 

Should you have any questions about the programme, please visit our website or email us at returntosocialwork@local.gov.uk.

Social worker recruitment couldn’t be simpler.