It is known that the shortage of experienced social workers nationally is leading to an increased reliance on expensive agency workers.

Norfolk County Council is striving to address this by the launch of its Social Care Academy this summer, aimed at recruiting and retaining more social workers by promising employees personal development opportunities throughout their career. The goal is not only to attract and keep a stable workforce, but also to encourage former social workers to consider returning to the profession. Now, a national scheme is also bidding to tempt ex-social workers back.

Nationally, more than 11% of social worker posts are currently unfilled, with many talented social workers leaving the profession. A pilot scheme is opening the door for 30 former social workers across the country who have left the profession within the last two to five years to return to social work.

The scheme is run by the Local Government Association, Department of Health, Department for Education (DfE) and Jobsgopublic.

The free 13-week Come Back to Social Work refresher programme will prepare those who are chosen to re-register with Health and Care Professions Council as social workers and apply for jobs, as well as being entered into a job pool.

All applicants will have access to a free six month personal development programme, a social care job pool and sign-posting to self-learning and development.

Anyone interested can visit the website . The deadline for submissions is 30 September.

Norfolk case study

One Norfolk County Council social worker tells how she found changing teams gave her a new lease of life.

The social worker said that after returning in 2015 after a career break and having a child, various reasons led her to make the difficult decision to leave.

“I felt that the caseload I had and the demands of the job were not manageable for me to be a really good social worker, which is what I want to be,” she said. “Also, I was quite tired – it’s much harder to manage with a child. As a parent, flying around looking after 16-18-year-olds isn’t as realistic as before but I hadn’t made that adjustment, I hadn’t even considered changing teams.”

The social worker, who started in 2003, said: “I’m quite loyal to the local authority and when I left I thought, that’s it, I haven’t got a career in social work anymore and that was quite upsetting, as the job gives you amazing job satisfaction.”

After making the decision to leave, an exit interview with a principal social worker and chance conversations with colleagues led her to try out a different area of social work. After four months working on a self-employed basis for the kinship team, she returned to the County Council payroll and now works part-time within that team, which deals with private fostering, special guardians and children looked after by family and friends.

She suggested that anyone thinking of leaving or wanting to return to the profession should try to explore options of working in alternative areas of social work, adding: “I’m really glad I didn’t leave – I can see now there are other pathways to go down. I have a much better work-life balance now. This role gives me time to use my skills and think about things, so it feels like it’s a more experienced role.”