Tackling excessive caseloads should be the top priority in the drive to improve social work, finds an exclusive Community Care survey that informs the magazine’s submission to the Social Work Task Force.
Making social workers less deskbound and securing more support from the government and media are also vital, according to respondents to our questionnaire, which asked about the barriers social workers face and what should be done.
Full results of the survey, which was answered by more than 400 people, including 326 social workers and 52 service users, have been sent to the Social Work Task Force as part of Community Care‘s submission.
The main problems highlighted by respondents were poor public understanding of social work and a lack of resources.
Respondents overwhelmingly felt the profession was poorly understood, while 63% said the public probably viewed social workers as doing a bad job.
Nearly all said the public was influenced by media portrayals, with 79% believing adverse coverage made social workers’ jobs more difficult.
One respondent said: “Most members of the public have very little knowledge of social workers and their role and responsibilities and the constraints upon them. Therefore they join in some media condemnation from a position of ignorance.”
However, this was in contrast to the experiences of service users, 86% of whom praised the support they received from social workers, describing it as “very good” or “reasonably helpful”. Only 18% said it was unhelpful. Of those, one-third cited a lack of resources as the main reason.
On the level of understanding, social workers and service users were asked which professional duties the public would be familiar with. More than 80% said social workers would be readily associated with protecting children from abuse and helping looked-after children, but fewer than one in five said practitioners would be known to keep together families in difficulty and help them to turn things round.
Tackling caseloads and allowing overstretched professionals more time to visit service users were the most urgently needed changes to address the poor public standing, followed by more positive stories in the media.
Nearly 85% of social workers were concerned at the bureaucratic processes they encounter, although just 70% of service users believed this was a problem.
More than 90% of social workers and service users felt practitioners would do a better job if they had more support from the media, with 92% of professionals saying the same of the government.
They also pointed to a lack of a voice for social workers: “We have no-one in the public eye who is a speaker or advocate for our profession,” said one respondent.
Nearly 40% of social workers said they would recommend their profession as a career, while 29% would only do so if pay and conditions were improved, and 21% if they gained more respect from the media and public.
Community Care’s survey ran in parallel with a similar poll in The Sun organised by the newspaper’s agony aunt Deidre Sanders, who sits on the taskforce. Sanders said she would also pass on readers’ ideas to other panel members.
The deadline for submissions to the Social Work Task Force closed on 1 June. It will report in October on improving training, recruitment, and standards in the profession in England.
Make a difference: what you can do
Community Care is working on many of the issues raised in our submission through our Stand Up Now for Social Work campaign, which seeks to improve perceptions and we need all social workers to act.
This week please make a pledge to act and e-mail it to us . Click here for ideas and to see other people’s pledges