Advice and Guides

What is a locum social worker?

What is a locum social worker and what do they do?

Published on 30th July 2018

A team of social workers

A locum social worker, or agency social worker, is a social worker who works for an organisation on a short-term contract rather than a permanent basis. A locum social worker tends to use a social work recruitment agency to find suitable social work placements.

Locum social workers are in demand as a result of:-

  • A high turnover of staff in some organisations
  • The rates of burnout in the social work profession
  • Funding issues when authorities cannot commit to long-term funding, problems recruiting and retaining staff in some geographical areas
  • Problems attracting and keeping staff in some areas of social work
  • The need to cover day-to-day issues such as sickness, maternity cover, short-term projects.

Locum social workers have to be fully qualified and registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. They work in a variety of settings across the statutory, voluntary and private sectors providing social work services in local authority teams, charities, hospitals, residential homes. A locum social worker does not need to have a certain amount of experience although it can be seen as beneficial to have gained some experienced before becoming a locum and some employers will specify a certain amount of experience is needed for certain posts. Locum social workers are frequently expected to 'hit the ground running' and that is where experience and expertise helps.

In some cases, there is little difference in the day-to-day work a locum social worker carries out in comparison a permanent social worker. In some local authority teams there will be permanent staff working alongside locum social workers working on similar cases (although some locums report that their caseloads are heavier than permanent staff and they deal with more complex cases). The difference between a locum social worker and a permanent member of staff is around employment: their employer, how they got their job, their contract, terms and conditions, rights, for example sick pay and annual leave and not the job they do.

Any qualified and registered social worker can become a locum, it is down to the individual as to whether they would prefer a permanent job or join an agency and take short term placements. There are pros and cons to both and it is down to personal preference. For example, some social workers like the flexibility of agency or locum work, other social workers like the security of having a permanent full-time job.

A social worker wanting to become a locum usually signs up with a social work recruitment agency and a staff member there will interview the social worker and ask a number of questions including what experience do they have, what area do they want to work in, what are their salary expectations and they then contact the social worker when roles or ‘placements’ matching their requirements arise. A social work recruitment agency acts as the middle man between the social worker and the employer to match suitable staff to vacant positions.

Sometimes locum social workers go to an organisation as a locum, for example on a six month contract, and if they have done well in the placement and the manager or employer has been pleased, the organisation may offer the locum an extension on their contract or a new contract in a different team. Sometimes people taking short term contracts end up with a permanent role when the placement has been particularly successful.

There are pros and cons to becoming a locum social worker and it is down to preference and personality a lot of the time. There is a list of the pros and cons here to help social workers who may be considering becoming an agency worker.

BASW has provided Locum Today with Top 10 Tips on things to think about before becoming a locum social worker.

There are job opportunities on the Locum Today website and you can see the salary that you could expect as a locum social worker in our Paywatch map here.


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