Social workers in mental health services are being placed under increasing stress but left without adequate support for their own wellbeing, according to a new report.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Work called on employers to produce explicit plans for improved mental health support for professionals and recommended that the government should fund a national wellbeing helpline for staff to access.
The group made the recommendations after its inquiry into adult mental health services in England found social workers and other professionals were often “under duress” themselves, with staff shortages and poor supervision contributing to the pressure on teams.
Ruth Allen, BASW’s chief executive, said: “We heard a lot about the stress and the strain people are under. Some of that is about funding cuts, functions being merged, teams shrinking, and high caseloads, but it’s also about staff not having the psychological care they need.
“People who use services are also us. We need to make sure working conditions do not lead to mental health issues for the workforce.”
Social model of care
The inquiry also found that social workers, outside of the Best Interest Assessor and Approved Mental Health Professional roles, are often not supported to use their full skills and are instead restricted to “more limited” roles, such as care coordinators in the NHS or service brokers in local authorities.
Allen said some models of care in mental health services denied social workers opportunities use a strengths-based, social approach, and instead pulled them into a “more medical, diagnostic way of working”.
She added: “It’s difficult for social workers to practice in that way or to develop those skills. There is something social workers bring into this – it’s seeing the whole person first and last.”
The report recommended that social workers are given the opportunity to practice according to their skills and training, in order to prevent crisis and help people making lasting changes.
It also called on the Department of Health, ADASS and BASW to agree a set of social work outcomes for mental health.
Other recommendations in the report included a call for every crisis team to have a dedicate family liaison social worker and improved training on the Care Act 2014 for mental health staff.