Q: I took up my first social work post eight months ago. Most of the cases I deal with involve serious child protection issues and I am terrified of making a mistake. I feel I have been totally dropped in the deep end, and am working long hours just to stay on top of everything. I passionately believe in what I do but already feel on the verge of burning out. My manager is normally too busy to talk. What should I do?
A: No matter how busy your manager is, you must sit down with him or her and explain how you feel. Your passion for your job and the efforts you are putting in to keep on top of things are laudable, but don’t forget the responsibility you have to take care of yourself too. As a newly qualified practitioner, you should expect support from more experienced colleagues, in addition to your manager.
I know that in reality everyone is busy. But the right support at this point in your career is vital and it is your manager’s task to ensure that it happens, no matter how busy they are – that part of their job description is every bit as important as the child protection issues you are dealing with.
Although the caseload won’t go away, they may be able to show you how to work smarter, not harder. I know this might seem a trendy training fad, but effective time management can help to bring things into perspective.
As a relatively new starter, you should have recently completed a probation process, with interim reviews. That would have been the ideal time to talk about your workload and ask for any help that you needed, but it is never too late to raise this in the regular supervision sessions you should still be receiving.
It is important not to endure these meetings by putting on a brave face. Be open and honest. I’m not suggesting that it would come to this, but the first question in a stress-related constructive dismissal case is “who did you tell that you felt stressed?”. So make sure you tell someone.
Alison Sanger is a social care HR consultant
A: Your experience is not uncommon among social workers, and particularly child protection staff. There are two things to consider here: first, your own health, sanity and work-life balance and second, your duty of care to the children you are supposed to be protecting.
If you are being asked to make decisions about a child’s life that you do not feel qualified or experienced enough to take, you have a responsibility to make your manager discuss it with you. Spending hours of extra time on the case yourself is unlikely to make a difference to the outcome, whereas advice from a more experienced colleague could.
For your own benefit, you also need to record everything – including when you are refused help and advice, as well as what advice you are given when it is offered. After all, no-one wants to find themselves embroiled in a serious case review or inquiry unable to offer any evidence of having at least tried to ask the right questions and seek the right support.
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