Hotdesking is leaving child protection social workers unsupported and at greater risk of burnout, Professor Eileen Munro has said.
Munro, whose landmark independent review of child protection was published in 2011, said hotdesking demoralised practitioners and saw them miss out on vital “emotional and intellectual support” from colleagues.
Delivering a seminar for social work training scheme Frontline, she said: “You should be able to come back from a difficult interview and know where your colleagues are and who you can go and talk to.
“You need to go back and debrief about how difficult it was, or how scared you were or how angry you felt. By bringing that out into the open it becomes useful to help you understand the family but also for your mental health and survival.
“If you just have to come back to a room full of people [you don’t know] sitting typing on a computer then you have to hold all that emotion inside you, you start taking it home at night, you start getting burnout.”
Challenging the cuts argument
Munro said moves by councils to introduce hotdesking for social workers betrayed a lack of understanding of the role. Claims hotdesking is a necessary cost saving measure at a time of local authority cuts should also be challenged, she added.
“I can’t imagine that a hospital facing funding cuts would decide to save money by no longer sterilising equipment for the operating theatre.
“And I think the need [for social workers] to have colleagues to help you with the intellectual and emotional dimensions of the work is really of that level. I can see why the efficiency saving is desirable but I really do think as a profession we should shout against it.”
‘Stronger narrative’ needed
The need to challenge the poor working conditions many social workers face “is one of the most important tasks ahead”, said Munro.
She said the profession needed to develop a “very strong narrative” on the importance of good quality working environments. Addressing the problem could help tackle the “frightening” levels of turnover among child protection social workers and lead to more staying in post for years, she added.
“[Good working environments] matter partly for your mental health but also for the quality of the help you give a family. By getting a better understanding of how you’re reacting to them, you get a better understanding of what might be going on and how you can work with them. So the impact for children will be greater if we’re providing this sort of help to staff.”
‘An exciting time to be in social work’
In a wide-ranging talk, Munro set out two further priority issues. Social work needs to develop a “shared professional confidence” around what constitutes “good enough” practice in different situations, she said. This would help free practitioners from working under the constant fear of blame.
The third priority concerned research. Practitioners should recognise that research, while valuable, is not the only source of evidence to draw on in cases, Munro said. Intuitions and feelings were also an important part of how social workers processed information and developed an understanding of situations, she added.
Munro urged practitioners to seize the opportunity to shape the profession, adding: “This is a really exciting time to be in social work despite the funding cuts. We have this chance that we must try and use.
“We mustn’t just end up bickering amongst ourselves because, as my final point, the aim of all of this is not to improve the status of social work – it is to improve the quality of help we can give to children. My hope is we’ll get to the point where children [we’ve worked with] are just very glad a social worker came into their lives.”
A full report on Professor Munro’s Frontline seminar, including video, will be available on Community Care next week.