Employers and sector leaders have been accused of trying to sweep the impact of social worker stress under the carpet, following the results of a Community Care survey.
In the online survey of over 2000 social workers, 80% said stress was affecting their ability to do their job. The top three causes were spiraling caseloads, poor supervision and bullying by colleagues or managers.
Despite initially claiming the survey was very worrying, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Alan Wood, said on Friday he didn’t think the results reflected a national picture.
If a social worker is experiencing high levels of stress, it is their responsibility to speak up and seek support, Wood said.
“I don’t think a manager would ignore it if a social worker came to them and said they were really struggling.
“I don’t think a lack of support is the main cause of our recruitment and retention problem, I think it’s the lack of highly qualified social workers coming out of education. Too many qualify and don’t practice and too many qualify and practice only for a short time.”
But professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers Nushra Mansuri cautioned Wood not to dismiss these figures.
“The survey results reflect what lots of our members are saying. I wish the world was as simple as Alan [Wood] describes, but our advice and representation service has never been so busy.
“I would have to beg to differ with him. I do wish we wouldn’t keep identifying social workers as the problem rather than looking at the conditions they are practising in.”
Mansuri said she believed people in top-level positions were concerned about improving the calibre of social workers, but were ignoring their working conditions.
“If we value social work, we’ve got to make sure people have really safe working environments and appropriate terms and conditions to do it.
“We’ve got to really stand by that survey and say, this is representative. I’m hearing it all the time from our members and we shouldn’t try and dilute or minimise it.”
Isabelle Trowler, responding to the survey results on Twitter, also claimed the survey results were misleading, saying many social workers were doing a good job in difficult circumstances.
However, in a later statement to Community Care she added: “It’s essential all services have support in place to help social workers cope with the pressures of a very challenging job.
“Some employers already do that very well. Organisations which have whole groups of staff suffering from high levels of stress and related sickness must ask themselves why.”