Support shortfall leaves staff on brink of burnout

Most social workers fear the pressure of working with limited information resources and inadequate supervision will push them to the brink of burnout, an exclusive Community Care survey has revealed.

Our research, based on responses from 450 social workers, commissioned jointly with our sister website Community Care Inform, an online information service for children and families professionals, highlights the stressful realities of day-to-day practice in teams across the UK:

  • Nearly three-quarters of social workers (72%) face burnout due to making difficult decisions under stress.
  • One in six always make tough decisions under pressure.
  • One in 10 “rarely” have access to adequate resources and support to inform practice.
  • A third believe their supervision is inadequate.

Our exposure of poor working environments comes after Lord Laming’s review of child protection warned that practitioners were working under “immense” pressure due to “poor supervision, high caseloads, under-resourcing and inadequate training”.

Several sector bodies have responded with some suggested solutions to the issues raised.

Although 80% of social workers said access to trusted information was essential to their work, almost three-quarters said proper resources and support were available only part of the time, our survey found.

Practitioners also have to resort to Google to provide context to cases. The search engine was the most popular source for facts and figures, ahead of journals and other publications, despite only 3% of respondents “highly trusting” Google as an information source.

Social workers believe the lack of information and supervision have a detrimental impact on practice, as only half of respondents said they are able to work to high professional standards all of the time.
A spokesperson for Unison, which represents 40,000 social workers in the UK, said the findings should act as a warning to local authorities that social work services were “heading towards meltdown”.


On access to information:
“Scie helps staff to manage the ‘blizzard’ of information available and support informed decision-making by identifying and distilling good practice into simple guides. The skills section of Scie’s Social Care Online database has lots of tutorials.”
Amanda Edwards, SCIE

“The time social workers spend on finding essential information could be cut by employing support staff to obtain the details for them and by giving workers greater access to targeted, ongoing training.”

On stress levels:
“There are ways of managing your workload and pacing your visits, so they’re not carried out on one day, or making sure you’re not in front of the screen all day without doing any fieldwork. The burden of making decisions should be shared.”
John Nawrockyi, Adass

On supervision, recruitment and retention:
“We look forward to the work of the Social Work Taskforce to consider issues of caseload, supervision and recruitment and retention.”
Eleni Ioannides, ADCS

More on the research

Full coverage of the research

News: Social workers lack access to reliable data to inform decisions

In depth: Poor supervision continues to hinder child protection practice

Blog: Social workers unsupported as they reach breaking point

How could supervision be improved? Share your views on CareSpace, our discussion forum

Related articles
New ADCS chief vows to restore morale to children’s social work
Unison: High vacancies and rising caseloads risk another Baby P
Post-registration training and learning must reform, says BASW

External information
Association of Directors of Adult Social Services
Association of Directors of Children’s Services
Social Care Institute for Excellence
Unison – Local Government

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