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Children’s Social Care – Recruitment and Retention Strategy 2021-2022


Our vision

In Devon, we are committed to working with children, young people and their families in a restorative manner which promotes the health, well-being and good life chances for all, while focussing on protecting children and young people from harm. To do this, we require a stable, experienced, and highly skilled social care workforce with the knowledge, skills, and values to meet our commitment to the most vulnerable children and families in Devon.

We are ambitious, not only for the children and young people with whom we work, but also for our workforce. Devon is a great place to build a social work career, and this strategy sets out our recruitment and retention plans to support existing and new workers to progress their career goals.

Effective relationships are the key to positive change with families. Our approach to everything that we do is based in restorative practice which embeds ‘working with’ families and colleagues across the partnership (rather than ‘for’ or ‘to’). We are rolling out restorative, relational practice across our children’s social work services and the wider Devon Children and Families’ Partnership. We know it makes a difference not only to children and families but also to our workforce.

National Context

Whilst this strategy includes the full social care workforce, the focus is by necessity on the recruitment and retention of qualified social workers. Nationally there is a shortage of qualified social workers, with specific challenges in rural and sparsely populated areas. Turnover of social workers across England between 2015 and 2019 averaged 15.76% per year; across the same period Devon turnover averaged 17.7%. We are actively addressing this, and this strategy sets out how

Devon Context

In Devon, social worker turnover is higher than both the South West average and the National rate. This turnover is most acute in our Children and Families Teams and consequently this is our particular focus.

Over recent years, different solutions to recruitment and retention challenges in Devon have met with various levels of success. Investment in ‘grow your own’ social workers has been successful through our well respected ‘Assessed and Supported Year in Employment’ programme for Newly Qualified Social Workers (NQSWs). We are building on this to foster a long-term commitment to working with children and families in Devon.

‘I was fortunate to be funded by DCC to become a Social Worker via the Open University. I am very proud to have had this invaluable training experience (home grown) and this in-house provision is still running today. After qualifying I spent time as a Senior Social Worker. In my supervision and appraisals my manager encouraged me to consider and Assistant Team Manager (ATM) role. Moving into the role was a big step for me but again I was well supported by my peer group and DCC’s training opportunities including a five-day Practice Supervisor Development Programme (PSDP).’ Assistant Team Manager, March 2021.

We have been successful in the recruitment of overseas social workers who, across three cohorts, have chosen to commit to remaining in Devon and are building their careers with us. As an example, one colleague from the first overseas cohort in 2016, has flourished, gaining experience in front line teams and has recently been appointed as one of our new Advanced Social Workers (March 2021).

This strategy lays out how we will build on our successful approaches and learn from the best approaches around the Country to further develop those that influence social workers to join Devon and stay with us as their careers develop. We recognise that recruiting and retaining qualified social workers requires a comprehensive approach to attract the best, to support them to become excellent practitioners and to enable their careers to develop in line with their ambitions. Throughout our approach to recruitment and retention we will take a strength-based approach as part of our overarching restorative practice framework.

Improving children’s social work

Devon is well on its way in improving children’s social care practice, management and leadership and are seeing improved outcomes for priority groups of children and young people. Our focus in our second year following our ILACS inspection is on how we do things (restoratively), why we do things (because of our ambition for children and our value base) and what happens when we do these things (evidence of impact on outcomes). Building a stable and permanent workforce is a key element of our improvement priorities so that we have skilled and experienced workers who make meaningful relationships with children, young people and families to support them to make the changes needed to bring about improvements in the lives of children and young people and so that we can build positive relationships between professionals who work together in Devon to support children and families and keep them safe.

Building a stable workforce requires a clear plan and expectations of how we will achieve this. To implement this Recruitment and Retention Strategy, we have an improvement plan in place which sets out our focus and priorities, and which in turn is supported by a comprehensive business case. Financial modelling will help us to drive forward our plan. We aim to:

  • Steadily increase our cohorts of Newly Qualified Social Workers on the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (recruit 20 (minimum) over the next four cohorts) whilst maintaining the high-quality support and protected caseloads
  • Reduce our dependency on agency staff (planned reduction 49 whole time equivalents over two-year period) – including having conversations with our current agency workers to encourage them to take up permanent posts in Devon, and ensuring all opportunities are taken to recruit permanent staff via improved and wider spread advertising and implementing all the approaches in this strategy.

Embedding a restorative practice approach enables us to further embed strengths based practice which ensures that the voices of children, young people and their families are actively sought and heard, and inform all practice decisions and developments – to do this we need colleagues who are keen to learn, develop and stay with us.

As part of our approach to recruitment and retention we will equip our social work workforce with the knowledge, skills and tools to work restoratively with families and will support and challenge them through effective leadership and management, in teams where high ambitions and expectations are held for all children, young people and the workers themselves.

The restorative practice offer to workers begins with Restorative Practice E-Learning, which sets out the theory, language and knowledge about developing a restorative culture. This is supported by virtual learning courses in Restorative Practice and Motivational Interviewing and for managers we offer places on Restorative Supervision courses at intervals through the year. We have Restorative Practice advocates throughout the service to offer support and advice on applying a relational restorative approach in practice and have a range of on line tools that all staff can dip into on our Academy website. Our Restorative Practice Development Advisers also offer individual and management team coaching sessions including ‘Strengthening the quality and impact of supervision’ workshops. We are also working with Devon Children and Families Partnership to ensure that restorative practice is recognised by partners, and our ambition is to develop this into a full partnership approach as a system wide collaborative means to achieve the best outcomes for all children. All staff from partner agencies can access the restorative practice online training, and the Devon Children and Families Partnership executive received a presentation in March 2021 on the principles and values.

Our Offer to Social Workers

The recognised conditions for success in employment in children’s services are very much the same as those identified by the Local Government Association (LGA) as the conditions of employers of social workers. We will meet these in the following ways:

Career and Qualification Pathway

Our structured career progression scheme makes building a career in Devon attractive to social workers. It follows the development journey from student social worker to experienced social worker, and then branches to advanced social worker or into front line management if that is where practitioners want to go.

We will invest in practitioners staying in practice, to ensure we retain the knowledge and expertise of those with significant social work experience. We are building a learning organisation where we know ourselves well and where restorative approach is promoted at every level with learning and development opportunities available as workers progress. We recognise good practice within our organisation and celebrate success.

Examples of celebrating success include sharing restorative practice ‘story boards’ at full service and manager’s meetings demonstrating good practice and positive impact on children’s lives; and holding an annual Children in Care Celebration event where children and young people’s varied achievements are recognised. We use our internal social media channel (‘Yammer’) to celebrate praise and compliments received by workers from families, colleagues in partner agencies and others.

Once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted we will reinstate celebratory events such as marking the success of Newly Qualified Social Workers on completion of their Assessed and Supported Year in Employment, entering teams and individuals for the Social Worker of the Year awards and recognising the achievements of foster carers in their work with children and young people through a celebration event and annual pantomime.

The following stages of the Career and Qualification Pathway for social workers are aligned to the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF), and cognisant of the Knowledge and Skills Statement (KSS) post-qualifying standards for social workers.

Student placement opportunities and relationships with social work qualification providers

We have established links with Plymouth University, Bournemouth University, and the Open University and have plans in place to extend our reach to other universities and regional contacts. We are regional partners in the DfE Step Up to Social Work Programme.

Students can expect mentoring by their Placement Supervisor and to be overseen by a Practice Development Adviser from the Children’s Social Work Academy. This ensures high quality placements with excellent support, supervision, and academic input. We work alongside our colleagues in Adult Services to offer students placement variety across a range of settings.

Students in Devon are invited to participate in learning and development opportunities open to employed colleagues, such as a peer support group for those working with children who have experienced sexual abuse. In addition, we encourage students to access our learning and development offer via Devon Learning (DeL) to enhance their knowledge and skills as they work with our children.

We are partnering with Frontline, a Masters’ level social work qualification programme, for the first time in 2021 and will have two units placed with us that should lead to eight Frontline participants qualifying and joining our workforce in Sept 2022.

The Academy provides a rolling programme of training to bring on-line new practice (placement) supervisors and to upskill current supervisors. Joint observations and case discussions between students, their practice supervisors and Academy mentors promote reflection and skills and knowledge development.


Devon County Council is committed to supporting apprentices in our workforce and have a variety of opportunities available for new applicants into the service.

The Step In Programme aims to provide a route into employment for those who are just starting out in their careers or trying to get back into work. It gives employees a solid grounding in the world of work and the chance to learn fundamental business-related skills which will put them in good stead for the future.

The Step Forward Programme is an employability programme for care leavers aged 16 to 25. The programme offers a wide range of opportunities including work experience, access to qualifications in English and maths, short courses where you can learn from home, careers advice and coaching, all within a personalised plan tailored to meet individual needs.

As part of this strategy, the service will consider creating suitable opportunities for a variety of Apprenticeships to enable an early entry into the Social Care environment and support growth and development for our future workforce. A Social Worker Apprentice job description has recently been evaluated and we are working to embed this as a route to qualification from Autumn 2021. We know that it is important to provide a range of entry points and qualification routes for prospective social workers and our apprenticeships form part of this menu.

Newly Qualified Social Workers

All Newly Qualified Social Workers (NQSW) who join our Assessed and Supported Year in Employment programme (ASYE) have:

  • A named Practice Development Adviser from the Children’s Social Work Academy who will work alongside them throughout their first year in practice in addition to their named supervisor from the team in which they work
  • A comprehensive induction programme introducing them to the full range of services in Children’s Social Care and the systems that support families with whom we work – followed by ongoing workshops and learning and development opportunities across the year
  • Regular mentoring and practice observations provided by our Academy, with tips and guidance to strengthen practice
  • Support to complete their critical reflection logs and to build their evidence portfolio which is moderated by a full panel and feedback given

In addition to our excellent ASYE programme, we are committed to:

  • Bedding in the career progression scheme so that social worker development follows a nationally recognised pathway
  • Ensuring that our remuneration package for newly qualified staff is competitive amongst neighbouring local authorities
  • Caseloads continuing to be protected in the first year of practice
  • Offering comprehensive learning and development opportunities
  • Developing opportunities for our newly qualified staff to be our recruitment ambassadors (for example attending open days at relevant universities).

Social Workers and Experienced Social Workers

The initial stage of refreshing the Career and Qualification Pathway created a new Social Worker role between the existing roles of NQSW and Experienced Social Worker, with revised and refreshed job descriptions linked to the PCF.

Linked to this a competency framework will be developed with a clear progression process for practitioners to demonstrate their development and achievements. This will clarify the knowledge and skills practitioners will require to demonstrate their progression and evidence their abilities.

Our social workers and experienced social workers can expect regular restorative supervision which identifies their learning needs. We have developed a Learning and Development Portal which sets out expected practice and corporate learning and allows workers to book on courses and access e-learning. This then creates a Continuous Professional Development record (CPD) to support provision of evidence for Social Work England registration.

Social workers joining us can expect access to relocation expenses including removal expenses, legal fees and purchases such as soft furnishings I.e., costs incurred as a direct result of moving to Devon. The basic allowance is £3500 with additional discretionary payments as per the corporate policy.  New workers will also be offered settling in support via buddies / mentors. We are developing a revised induction pack and process, to enable new social workers to meet our leadership team and have clear sense of Devon’s vision when they first join us.

Advanced Social Workers

We recognise that it is important to have an alternative career route for experienced workers who want to stay in practice. They have knowledge, skills and experience that are invaluable for the children and families in Devon.

The second stage of development of the Career and Qualification Pathway will establish the Advanced Social Worker roles alongside front line managers. To do this, we have:

  • Reviewed and refreshed the job descriptions for Advanced Social Workers and are devising the induction programme for this role (consulting with the newly appointed ASWs)
  • Commenced meetings with current Assistant Team Managers (led by the Senior Manager Portfolio Holder) to seek their views on how their role compliments that of the Advanced Social Workers by ensuring clarity of application of the respective job descriptions.
  • Begun the process of developing a post qualification programme for Advanced Social Workers and first line managers, as practice supervisors (as defined by the KSS for practice supervisors). An introduction session relating to roles and responsibilities for Advanced Social Workers as Placement (practice) Supervisors and the lead in to Practice Educator training has been set up for June 2021.
  • Facilitated peer group supervision for Advanced Social Workers via the Social Work Academy
  • Linked our corporate learning for managers to our social care offer so that current and aspiring managers can easily access learning and development through the establishment of a ‘one stop’ portal for learning (portal tested April 2021 for launch May 2021).

Terms and Conditions

As part of our offer to social workers, we are reviewing our terms and conditions and working with elected member support, to be competitive in the social work recruitment and retention ‘market-place’. This includes consideration of pay related issues, and wellbeing promotion. Actions already taken or commenced include increased increments for experienced social workers and review of team manager salary.

Learning Offer

All our professional development opportunities for social care practitioners are attuned to our overarching practice model of restorative practice. In addition to the e-learning and courses on offer there a comprehensive range of learning materials on our Restorative Practice website, including all of the resources from the virtual training. The knowledge and skills for practice are augmented by the corporate training offer.

Practice Development Advisers (PDA) in the social work academy provide mentoring and group supervision to develop staff. PDAs are Practice Educators who support the work of front-line managers by offering bespoke sessions (for individuals and groups) in addition to running the ASYE programme and arranging student placements, conducting observations and moderating student competency assessments.

A series of four sessions for our front-line managers covering:

  • Creating the culture for Restorative Supervision
  • High Support & High Challenge in Supervision
  • Recording in Supervision (use of reflective tools)
  • Personal Supervision

can be offered to management teams, and in addition to these bespoke sessions can be offered to address specific topics such as creating a peer support culture to learning within the management team,

The focused learning groups are set up at the request of locality teams, and are facilitated by the Restorative Practice PDAs to build the confidence of managers in restorative supervision skills and approach.  To date (April 2021) four set sessions have taken place at each of the management groups for North, Exeter, South, Disabled Children’s Service and Permanence and Transition, and three of four have taken place at the East and Mid Team. Materials can be found at: Restorative Practice SharePoint site (internal only) under ‘Managers Toolkit for Restorative Supervision’. Managers can request a set or bespoke session by contacting the Academy on and marking the email for the attention of the Restorative Practice Development Adviser.

All social care staff in Devon have full access to ‘Research in Practice’ which ensures up to date access to knowledge and evidence in practice. We have a strong working relationship with Research in Practice (RiP), a nationally respected resource and training provider. We are taking active steps to promote use of RiP across our social work workforce, for example at least monthly updates on our internal social media ‘Yammer’ from our Academy L&D Practice Development Adviser outlining the latest Research in Practice news, articles in our Principal Social Worker Newsletter and an introduction to Research in Practice in our new induction pack. Front line managers have also had access to training delivered by Research in Practice, which is well received, and we promote the opportunities for smaller numbers of practitioners to book on to the research events run directly by RiP. We have also attended RiP induction events to learn more about their services to share with others.

The continued development of our professional knowledge and skills programme will:

  • Support consolidation and advancement of key skills and knowledge to improve outcomes for children
  • Incorporate workshops responsive to local learning from case reviews, consolidating learning loops for practice improvement
  • Be mapped against key skills and knowledge aligned to the continuous professional development requirements of their Social Work England professional registration.


As stated, we know that it is important for our new workers to feel part of Devon’s children’s social work teams and to understand our vision, direction, and purpose. With this in mind, we will:

  • Produce an electronic induction pack which sets out our vision and helps new workers to orientate themselves. This contains links to required policy and practice information as well as useful tips and pointers.
  • Implement new induction meetings that will enable new starters to meet key colleagues (such as our Chief Officer, Head of Service and Senior Management representatives) within three months of starting work with Devon,
  • Expand and improve the mentoring and buddying scheme to broaden the reach of the existing schemes.
  • Pilot regular induction meetings led by the lead for the Social Work Academy and Principal Social Worker for those staff who have joined the service in the last two weeks to personally welcome new workers into the organisation and offer opportunity for early questions to be answered.


Devon seeks to embed a lower caseload allocation across social care. We compare ourselves against our neighbouring authorities to monitor this. Caseload monitoring is regularly considered by senior managers and is part of individual supervision conversations. Team managers also monitor caseloads to ensure that workers have manageable caseloads suitable to their particular team role. We are continually updating our management information in respect of caseloads and workers will experience use of this data in their team and service meetings.  We are committed to keeping caseloads low wherever possible, to allow practitioners to develop relationships with families and undertake purposeful, restorative interventions to improve outcomes for children and families.


In Devon, our policy ensures that workers will receive regular, quality, restorative supervision, incorporating both casework supervision and personal supervision (including learning and development). We are rolling out restorative supervision training to all front-line managers to embed this, including with support from the Leeds Relational Practice Centre as our Partner in Practice. At April 2021, 55 managers had undertaken the Virtual Restorative Practice Training, with remainder to undertake this (or a near substitute) during 2021-2022 training year. We are measuring impact via the bespoke coaching sessions offered to management teams (described in Section 6 above) and follow these up with evaluations which are collated into a report (first report dated March 2021). This report has been shared with the Senior Management Team and will be shared with Leeds colleagues as part of our reflective work with them.

Social workers will have annual appraisals to promote their career progression, learning and development. Newly qualified workers are offered one to one buddying within their teams and a nominated member of the academy team to guide their learning and development and consider career opportunities with them. The academy team also offer wellbeing cafes for staff to talk about the impact of their work and consider any supports they may need to promote their resilience.

Staff Engagement

From the very beginning, at interview stage, we have reviewed our advertising and interviews to reflect restorative values and use questions which draw out the value base of practitioners. Our interview approach is kind, facilitative and challenging, and aims to engage candidates in our restorative approach and enable them to give of their best.

Once social workers are working with us, our Principal Social Worker (PSW) is the voice of our front-line workers, forming the conduit between social workers and management, and embedding policy and practice. Each month the PSW runs engagement sessions with workers which ensure the voice of workers is heard across our service, which are advertised on ‘Yammer’ – there are groups looking at specific learning areas (such as use of restorative language – ‘Language that Cares’ and task and finish groups to address practice changes (e.g. Eclipse documentation).  Our PSW is encouraging wider participation as there are keen volunteers who helpfully attend with scope for different workers to add their voices too. Social workers in Devon have opportunities to contribute to the monthly ‘Way We Work Group’ and pop-up consultation groups set up to enable full involvement and influence the shape of practice.

A regular newsletter led by the PSW links workers into the opportunities available and encourages them to make suggestions for improvement. We do this to ensure that any changes are influenced by and adopted by practitioners.

Front line managers participate in a monthly Service Development Meeting, which is an information forum and platform for staff engagement – and which regularly promotes the impact of restorative practice on promoting best outcomes for children.

Staff involvement and engagement is further maintained through focus group sessions, feedback initiatives, extensive communication and wider use of different forms of media and visibility of leadership at all levels of the service.

Social Work wellbeing

The Local Government Association standards for employers require each local authority to conduct a Social Work Health Check, which is the responsibility of our Principal Social Worker to facilitate. In Devon we complete this annually and value this as a sense check of how our social workers are, and what is important to them. We use the findings to inform our priorities for development.  We know from the results of our previous Social Work Health Check that workers value the regular support and supervision received from their managers.

We will continue to run Social Work Health Checks on a regular basis and ensure that managers and leaders are listening, discussing and acting on feedback received from the workforce as we encourage workers at all levels to be part of a learning organisation. We will respond using a ‘you said, we did’ framework in response to the views of staff. Our Principal Social Worker engages actively with the workforce to ensure their views are considered as part of planning and developments. Senior managers are committed to effective communication with frontline practitioner and manages to ensure that their needs and experiences are understood and considered in out improvement work.

Exit Interviews

It is essential that all our staff are feeling valued and supported when at work. An Exit Interview process, with clear documentation and reporting, has been reinstated and is being fully embedded to allow us to learn from those who leave the organisation. The purpose of this is to:

  • Offer all employees who resign the opportunity to either complete an exit questionnaire online or attend an exit interview of within the first week handing in their notice. Where it is possible to convert this to a Reconnecting Interview, and help the worker to look at options to stay with Devon, this will be done.
  • Ensure the results of the completed questionnaires and interviews are collated and analysed on a quarterly basis and reported to SMT for discussion; and
  • Inform and identify areas of improvement within the Service.

Quarterly monitoring reports will be presented to the Senior Management Team to collate the information from exit and reconnecting interviews and transfer any learning into actions for improvement as required.

Staff Flexibility and Movement

Within Children’s Social Care it is recognised that practitioners may benefit from a range of work experiences to develop their knowledge, skills and experience. A number of proposals are being developed to meet this requirement, which include:

  • Secondments – to specific roles or temporary opportunities – these will be advertised internally to enable those interested to apply, with a selection process if required.
  • Team Transfers – an internal process that facilitates skill and knowledge development – we will review the existing internal transfer policy to ensure that opportunities are created for workers and children’s needs are not compromised through unnecessary social worker changes.
  • Project Involvement – for example, social work in schools’ project.

Our wider workforce; alternatively experienced/qualified practitioners

The knowledge, skills and experience of practitioners and managers across the children’s social care workforce are extremely valuable in improving the lives of children, young people and families in Devon. While the whole workforce will continue to have access to specialist professional learning and development relating to their role, in addition to corporate training, we will also support those who have an interest in becoming social workers. We will do this by;

  • Continuing to refine the learning and development pathway offered to all social care practitioners.
  • Offering opportunities to pursue social work qualifications through a variety of routes.
  • Developing apprenticeships both for current staff and as a means of attracting external candidates looking for a career pathway to becoming a social worker. We are working to put in place the first apprenticeship in Autumn 2021.

Overseas Recruitment

Devon is proud to have undertaken successful recruitment of social workers from overseas to bring a richness and diversity to our workforce. We now have 19 social workers who were originally from overseas. We have learnt much from the successive cohorts of workers who have moved to Devon about how to improve our overseas recruitment process. This learning ranges from practical aspects such as support with accommodation to emotional support to help colleagues to settle in a new country, to cultural and practical information about living and working in the UK.

We will ensure that our support package to workers who join Devon from overseas is appropriate, sustainable and supports long term commitment to this local authority.

The Social Work Academy facilitates a monthly support group for Black and Minority Ethnic workers, which also ensures a peer network for those new to Devon and promotes support across the workforce.

Agency Staff

Devon recognises that at times there will be a need for agency social work staff to support our permanent workforce. However, we seek to keep this to a minimum in order to avoid disruption to relationships with children and families and professional networks.

We will actively promote the benefit of joining our permanent workforce in Devon and for all high-quality workers there are opportunities to join Devon on a permanent basis and agency workers who become permanent will be offered a place on the career and qualification pathway commensurate with their skills and experience.

To ensure our restorative approach to children and families is consistent across all workers, we also offer agency staff access to our restorative practice e-learning module and if appropriate places on our restorative virtual learning.

Our focus is on providing children and families with consistent and timely social work intervention, and one key aim is to build our career development offer to permanent staff so that our agency colleagues will want to apply to join us permanently.

Devon County Council Offer to employees

Flexible Working

Devon County Council offers several flexible working opportunities aimed at helping employees to achieve a better work-life balance, recognising the other commitments they may have in their life. A summary can be found here – Flexible working  Options include:

  • Flexitime (Time off in lieu)
  • Job sharing
  • Flexible Working Requests
  • Career Breaks

Staff Benefits

Devon County Council offer a variety of staff benefits to its employees to support them at times throughout their careers and personal lives. These benefits include:

Employee Assistance Programme

Devon County Council offers an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), provided by Care First, and offers confidential, impartial advice and support online and over the phone, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The service is free for Devon County Council staff and support on offer includes:

  • Personal
  • Work
  • Family and relationships
  • Daily living
  • Life events
  • Weekly webinars

The service is free for Devon County Council staff.

A county wide approach to recruitment and retention

This strategy has outlined the actions that will be taken by Children’s Social Care to improve the recruitment and retention of social workers in Devon. To do this, we will work in partnership with our corporate colleagues in the following areas:

Human Resources

Our HR colleagues are working with us to develop the career progression scheme, for example by supporting the review of remuneration packages and evaluating new and reviewed job descriptions. The HR team are collaborating to improve our recruitment processes so that applicants receive the best possible response.


Our communications team are helping us to increase our social media presence so that social work as a career option in Devon is widely known and working with us to produce induction materials and information to our staff and prospective staff. We will achieve this by purchasing boosts on our social media accounts, Twitter presence from the Principal Social Worker, staff profiles on our recruitment pages and video testimonies from colleagues.

Devon is supporting the proposed regional strategy (draft in planning to be put forward to ADCS group for consideration) for a shared South-West website and Virtual Careers Fairs.