Sixty Second Interview with Ian Johnston
By Amy Taylor
Ian Johnston is director of the British Association of Social Workers
A poll by Community Care of 100 of the 149 top-tier councils in England found that around 20, 000 local authority social services staff were off for a period of two months or more last year. What do you think is the reason for this high figure?
I’m not surprised by the figure because of the very stressful nature of the job. It’s highly stressful because it is dealing with situations that people don’t want to deal with because they hope it won’t happen to them…Because of the rhetoric of the government social workers are almost seen as the people responsible for these things because there’s no easy way for the rest of the world to deal with it… If I look back on my 33 years in social work it’s characterised by trying to do the impossible.
How do you think social services staff could be more supported to reduce the rate of people on long-term sick leave?
To be more appreciated by everybody and to have a more sympathetic approach from the media…More attention to much more flexible working arrangements and sabbaticals and opportunities for people to recharge their batteries rather than waiting for people to burn out.
What role do managers have in this?
There should be a systematic approach to looking at the practical signs that are indicative of stress and look at management processes. There’s still too much of a culture that we can manage out way out of any situation, we need to get the right kind of culture for people to feel empowered and grow and feel supported.
The poll also found that retention remains a critical issue with reponses from 112 councils show a 12.7 per cent average turnover of council social services staff in 2004. How do you think people can be encouraged to stay in the job?
We need to check and establish whether out staff feel supported. Sometimes the systems that are designed to support people are actually quite threatening. Some are more about making the supervisers feel supported than the workers…We don’t have opportunities for people reducing their working hours as their career advances. It’s important to do this without their pensions and retirement being effected.
The recently published children’s workforce strategy consultation does not give details on how to recruit and retain more children’s social workers instead promising that a social work project group, including junior minister for children and families Lord Filkin and community care minister Stephen Ladyman, will examine these issues and report in the summer. Are you disappointed by this?
I’m glad that the group is meeting. Some of the work it’s looking at has been very encouraging. I’m on the group for BASW. We are a bit disappointed that social care doesn’t get the prominence in that we would like to see it having but we have been a bit heartened by the Children’s Workforce Development Council. Briget Robb, professional officer for BASW England, has been appointed to serve on that. That’s a good development.