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Like many social workers, I have been desperately holding onto the dream that, maybe one day, the promises of a ‘different way of working’ will come true.
Change, is, and seems to have always been on the cards for the day-to-day life of local authority work. However, ‘real’ change does not happen as often.
When Professor Eileen Munro reviewed the child protection system in 2011 she found plenty of areas that needed improvement and no one argued her conclusions were untrue.
She pointed to the amount of red tape in social care meant frontline workers were not spending enough time with children and families – this had to be cut and reduced, with more autonomy to be given to each local authority and each social worker.
Local authorities and Ofsted were to focus on and consider the journey of the child through what is, and remains, an incredibly complex and often very slow child protection system.
There has been some movement on these recommendations and a great deal of focus on social workers and child protection by politicians lately.
But, and it is an awfully big BUT, the one area that seems to have been disregarded and ignored by everyone in power is the continuing rise in the number of cases held by social workers.
I would argue this is the one factor that makes the biggest difference to the quality of work being completed by social workers.
It is the biggest factor that will stop social workers doing direct work with families, seeing children, completing assessments and ensuring their case recordings are completed. Let alone complete the research they need to keep their learning up to date.
It is easy to see how social workers can ‘burn out’ very quickly. The better you are at understanding complex cases the more you have.
Ignoring the reality
Whilst this government continues on its relentless focus on the need to better educate or create super social workers, this reality remains: social workers do not have enough time to do the job they are being asked to do.
No amount of education or up-skilling of social workers will resolve it because even the strongest and best social worker can only manage the daily pressures and struggles for so long before the pressure becomes too much.
Perfectly aware that the grass is never greener anywhere else, often social workers are faced with hard decisions when they know their levels of stress have reached capacity. The smart social workers will usually leave front line work with their experience and knowledge lost.
So as the number of cases rise, so do the numbers of social workers leaving, making it more difficult for local authorities to recruit and maintain experienced staff. And so the pressures on the remaining frontline staff continue to increase with apparently no end in sight.
Simply Social Work is a children’s social worker and blogger. Follow him on twitter @SimplySW or follow his blog hownottodosocialwork.wordpress.com. Get the latest updates and resources for our Stand Up For Social Work campaign.