The Standards for Social Worker Employers (2010 and refreshed in May 2014) set out the shared core expectations of employers which will enable social workers in all employment settings to work effectively. Standard 3 covers ‘Safe Workloads and Case Allocation’ and mandates that Luton Borough Council as an employer should ensure social workers have safe and manageable workloads.
The standard includes requirements for a workload management system that:
- Sets transparent benchmarks for safe workload levels in each service area;
- Ensures workloads are regularly assessed;
- Allocates cases in a transparent way, in discussion with social workers and taking into account the complexity of the case, their professional judgement and the requirements of their registration, in particular make provision for the allocation of caseloads for Newly Qualified Social Workers;
- Reports regularly to senior management about workload and capacity issues within the service;
- Have contingency plans in place for resolving situations when workload demands exceed capacity;
- Provides information on average caseloads for publication.
The objective of this policy is to enable social workers and other practitioners ‘to put children, young people and their families at the heart of everything that we do’ (Children and Learning Vision, 2015). Outcomes will include:
- Caseloads are within agreed limits;
- Delivery of consistent, high quality services to achieve positive outcomes for children, young people and their families;
- The Standards for Social Worker Employers are met.
The standards contained within this caseload policy sets out Luton Borough Council’s transparent process for monitoring and managing the caseloads held by individual social workers and practitioners.
3.1 Benchmarks for case allocation
There is no clear national or local guidance regarding caseloads and so there are variations between Local Authorities. The responsibility for ensuring that caseload levels are safe has been delegated to the employers of social workers (see employers standards in Section 1, Purpose).
Within Children and Learning we know that there will be variations in caseloads between teams reflecting the differences in the nature of the work being undertaken and the risks being managed.
In light of this it is important to define some clear standards for Luton:
- It is the strategic aim to achieve an average caseload of between 15 - 20 children or young people to enable social workers and other practitioners to provide a high standard of practice to the children, young people and families that they work with;
- Cases will be allocated at the discretion of teams managers, based on the skills and experience of the worker in being able to respond to the needs and characteristics of the child(ren) and family, the complexity of the case and the complexity of other cases currently being held;
- Managers have a responsibility to monitor caseloads using the available performance information about the cases allocated to workers in their teams. Caseloads of individual teams are a standing item in the line manager’s own supervision and in management meetings;
- It is likely that there will be times when there may be deviations from the average caseload of 15-20 children dependent on the range of responsibilities for safeguarding children carried by practitioners in different teams, and the complexity of the case(s) being held;
- For practitioners who do not carry case responsibility for Child in Need, Child Protection or Looked After Children, the average caseload may be higher;
- Team Managers and the Principal Social Worker should not carry a caseload. It is Luton’s aim that deputy team managers do not hold caseloads where at all possible, but are allocated cases to support only when it is required. For example to support a Newly Qualified Worker at the start of their ASYE.
3.2 Caseloads of New Qualified Social Workers (NQSW) in their Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE)
NQSW’s are classed as qualified following the completion of their course and subsequent graduation, but they are not a registered social worker until they register with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) and receive their HCPC number. Until they receive their HCPC number they are unable to undertake statutory (tier 4) social work.
It has also been recognised that Newly Qualified Social Workers should have a reduced caseload to assist them in their Assessed and Supported Year in Employment. To support Newly Qualified Social Workers, Luton has set the following standards:
- Luton has a strategic aim to achieve an average caseload for NQSW’s which is 90% of a caseload held by a post ASYE qualified Social Worker;
- Luton may reduce the number of cases held by NQSW’s if they feel that this would support them and will not be of detriment to services for children, young people and their families;
- The caseloads for NQSW’s will increase throughout their assessed year as they gain experience but will remain at or below the average caseload figure of between 15-20 children;
- There will be no set timescales for NQSW’s to take on Child Protection Cases during their ASYE. Each Newly Qualified Social Worker will start casing hold Child protection cases based on individual merit, agreed in supervision meetings and recorded on their personal supervision file.
3.3 Caseloads of Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO’s) and Child Protection Chairs
It is Luton’s intention that caseloads for IRO’s will match those as stated in the ‘IRO Handbook Statutory guidance for independent reviewing officers and local authorities on their functions in relation to case management and review for looked after children’ 2010. This states that a caseload of 50 to 70 Looked After Children for a full time equivalent IRO, would represent good practice, and Luton has a strategic aim for IRO’s to hold cases of between 50-70 children. Luton has also set the same figure of 50 - 70 children for Child Protection Chairs.
As per Social Workers, there are some clear standards for Independent Reviewing Officers and Child Protection Chairs to be taken into consideration by the line manager when allocating case:
- Anticipated requirements set out in primary legislation, regulations and guidance;
- Outcomes of quality assurance audits;
- Capacity to support developments within the service, especially in relation to increasing the active participation of children in the review process.
The handbook also states the actions that IRO’s and Child Protection Chars are required to undertake to provide a quality service to each child, and the line manager is to take into consideration the 13 bullet points on page 49 of the handbook when allocating cases.
3.4 Prevention and Early Intervention/Early Help
Luton’s Prevention and Early Intervention Service works with children, young people and families who require tier 2 and 3 support as detailed in Luton Children Safeguarding Board’s threshold document.
For Early Help Assessment Coordinators who provide tier 2 support, it is Luton’s aim that these practitioners hold an average of 30-50 cases (families) at any one time. The Early Help Assessment Coordinators implement the Team around the Family Approach and each allocated case has a named Lead Professional.
For Family Support Workers who work as part of the Stronger Families Programme (Built on the Troubled Families Programme) with more complex cases who require support at tier 3 of Luton’s threshold document, Luton’s aim is that these practitioners hold an average of 8-10 cases (families) at any one time.
The number of families per worker is dictated by the number of children/young people and the complexity of their needs to enable workers to provide a high standard of practice to the children, young people and families that they work with. This would include intensive work with families requiring at least two visits per week to the family home.
3.5 Workload monitoring through supervision
Supervision is seen as a core part of caseload management. It is through supervision that the team manager can assess the complexity of the case to be allocated, the skills and experience of the worker, and the capacity of the worker given other cases that they hold. The following standards have been set to support this process:
- When allocating new cases it is the responsibility of the line manager to review the current caseload of the practitioner who will be receiving a new case, and record this on their personal supervision record;
- Any deviations from the average caseload figure (both higher and lower) have to be agreed in supervision with the reason clearly recorded on the worker’s personal supervision file;
- The line manager retains the right to allocate cases to social workers, practitioners, IRO’s and Child Protection Chairs even if such allocation exceeds the maximum average caseload. The line manager must explain the reason for this action to the worker, clearly record the reason for allocating a new case in their personal supervision folder, and take responsibility for re-prioritising their workload where this is possible. Such allocation must have a clear, maximum timescale clearly recorded and be subject to regular review;
- An analysis of caseloads for each practitioner should be undertaken at least every 12 weeks as part of supervision. This analysis to include any issues relating to the extent to the time available to work directly with children and families, and any issues in meeting other demands.
3.6 Concern when cases exceed safe limits
Luton has an agreed escalation procedure to be followed when resolving professional disagreements relating to the safeguarding of children and young people, and any concerns by social workers, practitioners, IRO’s and Child Protection Chairs in relation to their caseloads should be raised with their line manager swiftly. It is important that workers take responsibility for reporting concerns about their caseloads, in a timely manner, to their line manager and or the Principal Social Worker.
If a caseload for a worker continues to exceed the maximum average level for any longer than a three-month period and it is the assessment of the line manager and the worker that the work will be ongoing, the line manager must inform the relevant Service Manager who will attempt to rectify the situation.
If a team holds a caseload higher than the overall average levels set, this will have to be agreed by the relevant Service Director. Such allocation must have a clear, maximum timescale and be subject to regular review.
3.7 Monitoring and reporting caseloads by senior managers
Local authorities need to be able to report to Ofsted on average caseloads by team as part of Annex A of the Single Inspection Framework, and Luton is able to provide caseload monitoring as part of this information.
Senior managers receive regular management information on caseloads of social work services as part of routine performance monitoring. A caseload report is presented to Children and Learning Senior Management Team (called C&L DMT) and is recorded in the minutes of this meeting.
Accountability for cases and what it means to be accountable form part of the professional accountability framework for social work, and the overall accountability framework for children’s services (as required by the DCS statutory guidance). The responsibility for different individuals is listed below.
Individual practitioners have responsibility to engage with supervision in which caseloads are discussed and to ensure that they have the knowledge and skills to manage the cases that they are allocated.
Individual practitioners have a responsibility to raise concerns to their line manager about the number of cases they hold when this exceeds the agreed average limits, and/or concerns when a particular case complexity limits their ability to manage other cases effectively.
If individual practitioners feel that these concerns are not dealt with swiftly and robustly, then they are to raise their concerns with the relevant service manager.
Team managers have responsibility for ensuring cases are allocated appropriately given the available resources within the team and the skills of the individual worker.
They have responsibility for ensuring individual workers are satisfied that they have the capacity, knowledge and skills to manage the cases allocated to them.
Team managers have a responsibility to regularly access and use performance information about all of the cases held within their team and the individual cases held by each worker, so that they can monitor caseload and to take appropriate action as required.
Senior managers, including service managers and service directors have responsibility for alerting the Director of Children’s Services and the Principal Social Worker of caseload related issues; including where caseloads exceed agreed limits for individual workers and teams, as well as concerns raised by individual workers about their caseloads.
Senior Managers have a responsibility to monitor caseload information by team and where necessary, reallocate work or capacity across teams as possible.
The Director of Children’s Services and Principal Social Worker have responsibility for ensuring that caseloads are at a safe and reasonable level across the system. They should receive regular reports on caseload levels and related workforce information, and have contingency plans for when the system is at capacity.