The need for more experienced social workers in Pembrokeshire remains an issue with seven vacancies in children services and the potential for a “perfect storm” of increased demand and fewer staff.

Pembrokeshire County Council has sought to increase recruitment of social workers for a number of years in line with national problems with recruitment and retention to the profession.

Previous initiatives include a ‘golden hello’ for new social workers who stay more than 12 months, but members of the social care overview and scrutiny committee heard on Tuesday ( March 23) that just one of these £3,000 bonuses had been paid.

Head of children services Darren Mutter, head of adult services Jason Bennett and director of social services Jonathan Griffiths all spoke at Tuesday’s committee and highlighted the pressures put on existing staff caused by the vacancies and lack of experience within teams.

He added the service was facing a “perfect storm as work loads have increased exponentially at the same time that our vaccines have started to go up.”

A report to committee states there are seven vacancies in children services where there are 63 social workers and 16 newly qualified and one in adult services, where there are 51 social workers and 12 newly qualified.

It adds that over the last three years across both services there have been 22 resignations, six retirements and 14 new social worker posts have been created, the majority of which are externally funded.

The authority has a been successful at “growing our own” and training up new social workers, Mr Mutter said, but much of the “sharp end” work such as safeguarding and child protection requires a social worker with more than three years experience.

Lower pay than other authorities was sometimes a barrier with Cllr Vic Dennis adding “the lowest council tax in Wales maybe, but also some of the lowest paid professional staff as well.”

Ensuring the authority was some where with the “right set of professional conditions, in a department with the right mic of values and quality of practice” was also important said Mr Mutter.

Mr Griffiths said discussions about sustainability of delivery and workforce were the focus regionally as well as sustainable funding.

A range of options for more experience social workers are being explored, the committee heard, as well as benefits packages focusing on flexible working, relocation schemes of up to £8,000 and more chance for career progression and staff development as well as potential apprenticeship schemes and recruitment initiatives.