Support and job control for social workers not improved despite multiple policies

New research shows high profile changes such as the Munro Report and the Social Work Reform Board have made little difference for social workers

Photo: Marttila/Rex Shutterstock

Many social workers still do not feel able to make their own decisions despite the Munro Report recommending they be freed up to do so, according to research.

The study, conducted by King’s College London, analysed data collected as part of two evaluations on social worker practices between 2009 and 2013. It covered 5,028 practitioners across 22 local authorities in total.

No impact of high profile policies

The social workers were asked to complete the Maslach Burnout Inventory and the Karasek job control questionnaire which was compared alongside a policy and media analysis.

The study found that despite the numerous different policy changes and high profile media scandals since 2009, including the Baby P scandal, the Laming Report, the Munro Report and the launch of The College of Social Work – there had been little or no impact on the low job control social workers experienced.

The Munro Report, published in 2011, advocated freeing social workers from the demands of managerialism and bureaucracy to improve professionalism.

One in four in “high strain jobs”

Dr Shereen Hussein, Principal Research Fellow and lead author of the study, told the Joint Social Work Education Committee Conference in Milton Keynes last month, that 25% of social workers were in “high strain” jobs with high demand and low control leading to unresolved stress.

“This is not a good place to be – particularly if your public image is not great,” Hussein added.

“When you actually chart all the different policy changes as a timeline you see a pattern of organisations or reports set up as the answer and then later abolished – such as the National Safeguarding Delivery Unit.

“There seems to be a real gap between policy intention and practice.”

Social worker burnout sensitive to media coverage

Hussein said burnout and psychological job demand were sensitive to the ‘burden’ of media coverage with particularly high levels seen in 2009 but with rates steadily improving since.

The study also found there were differences by specialism with children’s social workers displaying significantly higher levels of burnout and lower levels of personal accomplishment than adult social workers. However, Hussein highlighted that these differences might be related to the different periods of the surveys targeting children and adult social workers.

In comparison, Community Care’s research last month, in partnership with Queen’s University, Belfast, found levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation (emotional hardening towards service users) among adult social workers were often higher than among children’s social workers.

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One Response to Support and job control for social workers not improved despite multiple policies

  1. Victoria Coker August 13, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    Having worked in social care at different senior levels for nearly 40 years, it is a fact that social workers in all local authorities are over-worked. It is unfortunate that many of the senior managers are unable to recognise this. Many of the managers at team manager level are more in tune with the heavy case loads and the lack of support for the social workers. However, they are unable to do much about it because they are used as the gate keepers and equally they are under a lot of stress and pressure themselves.
    A possible solution would be to review how the budget is spent. Others to consider are:
    1. Is it too heavy at the top, the hierarchy?
    2. Do we need to spend most of the budget on service provisions, social workers and team managers instead of paying people at the top at such a high salaries as if the organisations are private companies? Please note these organisations rely on budgets from the government and do not fund-raise.
    3. Do we need so many assistant directors, service directors and directors for each sector of the service delivery such as directors of commissioning, directors of social work directors of home care services, directors of HR directors of administration, directors of rehabilitation etc. ? All these top managers are there to meet a need in relation to a one particular service user say for example, Mrs A. The cost of a care package for Mrs A then trebles to the extent that Mrs A would end up with no services in order to pay all these people at the level of their hierarchy. This is before the team managers, assistant team managers, social workers, social work assistants and crucial administrative staff are paid.
    4. Do we need this constant organisational changes and restructuring that contributed to staff being stress and taking away direct focus from the needs of the service users and staff well-beings? These changes are not often given the chance to be implemented before another change is introduced. A lot of money is then spent on additional staff both externally and internally to design the changes which can take resources away from the staff in carrying out their assessment of their service users. I love changes that are productive and lead to improvement and growth in service provision, but not just for the sake of change which can be unhealthy, money wasting, disturbing and disorganise the whole of the system that the changes are there to improve. We need changes that have purposes and positive outcomes. Equally, organisational planning must be designed with service users’ needs in mind and with measurable achievement, accountability and positive outcomes.
    5. Are the service users getting what they are entitled to? May be not because the budget needs to be managed differently. I didn’t say the budget needs to be managed properly but differently.
    The team managers are capable of making decisions on all the issues relating to their work and they should be allowed to do so. They need to be allowed power to do this. Many of the team managers are more experienced than their line managers and must be allowed to contribute in a positive way.
    Decision making needs to be passed down to social workers and their immediate managers as well, they need to be trusted to make decisions at certain level and to be accountable.
    The team mangers and social workers always carry the blames, therefore they need to be the decision makers so that they can take responsibility and be accountable.
    More work need to be allowed around leadership and accountability.
    This is my own personal views from my experiences in working in social work field and residential care.