Locum social working: the agency route

Social lady

In the first article of this two-part series, we took an overview of locum social working, its rising popularity and some of the positives and negatives compared with traditional permanent social work jobs. Here we’ll be focusing in on the agency route into temporary roles.

While some locum social workers deal directly as ‘independents’ with employers, in most cases a specialist agency acts as a middleman. With local employers across England looking to cover a shortfall in permanent staff, there are a number of reasons why this makes sense.

Mutual benefits

From an employer’s perspective, such agencies understand the sector, and the different requirements and skill sets required for working with different groups of service users. Properly comprehending their client’s requirements is obviously critical when it comes to social work.

If an agency finds work for you as a locum staff member, they also take on the liability for your compliance, making sure your’re adequately referenced over five years and have a DBS (formerly CRB) police check, and that everything is in order with your HCPC registration.

For the candidate, being on the books of a good agency should ensure you’re adequately represented by someone who appreciates what you’re looking for. As with a full-time social work position, you should expect a face-to-face interview that will examine not just where you want to work and who with, but also press on your motivations for wanting to work with your given client group.

Choosing an agency

How should you decide who to sign up with? Generally, depending on location, you need to shop around and look at the different benefits on offer to candidates. It’s not only about whether they can find you a job.

The major national agencies are a good bet if the breadth of jobs is the most important thing to you, and you’re flexible as far as location goes. But it’s worth investigating what’s in your area: there are some high-quality local-based outfits that have smaller geographical footprints but know their region really well.

The tone of an initial phone call – or even the website – can give you a flavour of which agencies are proactive and which ones less so. But in the first instance, you’ll want a consultation up front, to make sure your needs are being properly looked after. This should take into account where you want to work, and which client group this involves – not just showing you a list of jobs.

Aftercare is also key – once placed, you could be in post three to six months months, or in some cases longer. You’ll be paid weekly through your agency, but it’s worth looking at whether, for instance, there is funding to subsidise training on offer. You should also consider what kind of liaison with the employer the agency will provide, should you run into problems at work that need resolving. There are differing levels of support on offer and investment in candidate care, and it’s important, whether you’re a permanent staff member or a locum that you feel as well looked-after at work as possible.

Thanks to Debbie Smith of Caritas for her assistance with this piece.


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