Social workers’ caseload concerns often fall on deaf ears, survey shows

A study of 650 social workers suggests the majority will speak out when they are worried about their caseloads, but many feel their managers are unable or unwilling do anything about it.

Paperwork
Credit: Daniel Sicolo/Rex Features

Around two-thirds of social workers who have raised concerns about unmanageable caseloads said their managers failed to properly address the issue.

More than half (56%) of the 650 social workers responding to Liquid Personnel’s survey felt their caseload was unmanageable. Almost nine out of 10 of those (88%) had raised these concerns with their managers.

However, 64% of those respondents said their concerns had been dealt with “quite poorly” or “very poorly”.  Often the manager recognised their concerns, but was unable to take decisive action due to constraints from senior management, lack of resources or strict targets. 

“We are told they know we are overworked but extra staff can’t be funded,” said one respondent.

Others said: “You’re informed that everyone is in the same position or that others have more cases than you and are not complaining.”

“I was told I needed to be more organised; it felt like a personal failing and has made me reluctant to raise this again.”

Liquid Personnel’s managing director, Jonathan Coxon, said it was at least encouraging that so many social workers had spoken out about their caseload concerns.

“It’s clear that unmanageable caseloads are endemic in social work and have been for some time. Social workers need to speak out if they cannot cope with their workload and make sure their concerns are clearly documented.

“There is a stigma attached to admitting ‘I can’t cope with this level of work’, but it’s important for your own wellbeing and that of service users.”

Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said: “There is a clear need for managers to be more supportive, but they too can face top-down pressures from policies imposed on them by central and local government.
 
“Part of the solution lies in employers having clear caseload management policies in place, and encouraging managers and social workers to work together on creative ways of addressing workload challenges.
 
“Managers and social workers must ask whether they are practising safely and where employers fail to act on concerns raised, frontline professionals should contact their representative organisations, such as BASW, for further advice and support.”

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