25 quotes from social workers about their current caseload

Social workers share their feelings of pressure and high or complex caseloads

Community Care’s survey of social work caseloads in children’s services found that 81% of social workers felt their current workload was unmanageable, and a median average caseload across 815 respondents of 25.

Here are some of the comments social workers made about their current workload and the pressures they face:

  1. It’s so hard to fit everything in for a caseload this high. Competing priorities leaves me feeling as though I am always letting someone down
  2. Complexity is not taken into account, just numbers
  3. We are completely overworked, strict deadlines to meet with [not] enough time. We are unable to spend time on thoroughly getting to know children’s views and opinions or to even undertake direct work with children
  4. It is impossible to do an effective job and ensure you can spend all the time with these families that they need to make significant change to their life. There is not enough time in a day to manage this amount and it is severely impacting on our health and compromising our own personal lives. There is no work life balance
  5. I have spoken several times to my manager but there is a high staff turnover, I often work until 9pm and at weekends. No overtime and no time to take [time off in lieu]
  6. I feel that my caseload results in not all the children I work with really being supported or indeed safe
  7. In my team I am considered one of the most experienced even though I only came out of ASYE last year
  8. I work in a children in care team. A lot of my children are either out of county or outside of my locality area. I can drive more than 1500 miles a month. All this driving for meetings, personal education plans, statutory visits etc make a caseload of 20 very difficult to manage
  9. If I only worked the hours I’m contracted there would be no way I could maintain statutory requirements on 32 children
  10. I am 8 months’ qualified and it is very difficult to balance all the competing needs of so many different children in so many different families. Even with working evenings and weekends (which [everyone] does because we really want to do the best possible job) there is simply not enough hours in the day
  11. ASYE…4 months in. 100hrs flexi accrued to keep up with all tasks requested
  12. It is seen as acceptable practice that Child in Need cases can be left months without contact due to the demands of high caseloads and court work
  13. It’s unmanageable and I’m struggling with anxiety and now considering medication to help me manage the near constant anxious feeling I have
  14. Due to staff shortages the caseload has crept up and up to a point where it is unmanageable. I feel that I am unable to devote enough time to each child and therefore a disservice of social care involvement
  15. I only manage if I work significantly more hours than I get paid for
  16. My unmanageable caseload has resulted in myself experiencing stress related anxiety & serious consideration to leave the profession after just 10 months post qualifying. It does not reflect the ‘ASYE’ programme ethos of developing practice & become a critically reflective SW
  17. Having to work on days off to keep up – still not manageable
  18. I’m a newly qualified social worker and work 50 hours a week and still don’t get everything done
  19. I am only an ASYE and have given notice in my current role. I’m unable to work in a safe way and have to work most evenings to get the bare minimum done
  20. My caseload is totally unmanageable. I don’t ever feel like I give a good service to the children and families I work with. I am constantly stressed and worried that I am leaving vulnerable children at risk simply because I don’t have the time and resources to do the basics to protect them. I’m currently in my first year and am due to complete my ASYE next month, but am very sadly unsure how much longer I will last in this profession

45 Responses to 25 quotes from social workers about their current caseload

  1. Too old for this stuff April 11, 2018 at 11:01 am #

    Is anyone listening???

    • Prussik April 12, 2018 at 8:46 pm #

      The answer is no – it’s the same old same old.

    • Claire April 13, 2018 at 7:07 am #

      I left the SW profession 2 years ago after 27 years …. it is so sad, but not surprising that the tremendous pressures, which led to my decision to leave, are continuing. There is life after SW – and it’s much more balanced and enjoyable. My advice would be, if your well-being and your relationships are suffering because of a job – look for alternative ways you can contribute to society and take care of yourself.

    • Karen April 13, 2018 at 6:18 pm #

      No! Not even me…realised work was taking over my life when family stopped asking me to join in activities and grandaughter asked me why I spent more time with others peoples children than I did her!

  2. Doug April 11, 2018 at 11:24 am #

    This does not surprise me. Where I work sometimes feels more like a psychological torture chamber than a social services office.

    DPK.

  3. Karen April 11, 2018 at 11:46 am #

    Reading this is very, very sad. It has become the norm for social workers to have absolutely no work/ life balance and acceptable to work under tremendous pressure. We are constantly compromising social work ethics. We have a governing body that penalises individuals for being unable to keep up, or for making mistakes with no compassion for people trying to do an impossible job. Our local authority takes the view, if you don’t like high caseloads – go somewhere else. I am fed up with seeing experienced, inexperienced, motivated, dedicated, caring people being crushed by a system like this. The profession is not only knocked by the media but our own employers and governing body are letting us down badly.

  4. Colin April 11, 2018 at 11:56 am #

    When will the CQC be tasked with monitoring the performance of local authority social services, addressing these sorts of issues??

    Everybody knows what the problems are, but no-one has the political will to tackle the resource problem – government or local authority.

    Self-regulation for local authorities clearly does not work.

    The HCPC seems content with looking at relatively minor breaches by overworked social workers, rather than tackling social services management at the highest level who know about and, by innaction, condone the current situation.

  5. Sabine April 11, 2018 at 1:22 pm #

    So nothing has really changed for many, despirte the marketing saying so. This is scandalous. Still no consideration for workers health and wellbeing, never mind families. Blame the cuts forced through by this government as well as the emotional blackmail used by bosses.

    I feel so sad for colleagues and the families.

    • Jim April 13, 2018 at 10:41 am #

      Well said Sabine. I think I might have worked at the same place as you in the past. Hopefully like me, you liberated yourself from the chaos and pain which is too often the life of a local authority social worker?

  6. Kim April 11, 2018 at 2:13 pm #

    These views echo my own views 100%. The role is unmanageable and unsafe. Management threaten capabilities all the time or worse still referrals to the HCPC. Something must be done about this because children and families are being failed. This is not the job I trained to do. I have been told by management that the job is not about giving parents chances (to change!). I have been off sick for quite some time, management opposed a phased return, they have also failed to keep contact with me throughout the sickness, I am returning to work but I am dreading it. I say so many times that the difficulties are not with children & families but mostly related to caseloads that are unmanageable and managers who have lost touch with reality! I refuse to continue to work 3 times my contracted hours just to keep my head afloat. Something has to change! This job is now all about writing assessments and reports and not about safeguarding children! I am very disillusioned with my chosen profession and also considering leaving.

  7. Colin April 11, 2018 at 2:14 pm #

    25 out of the 800+ that are good social workers and care, the others just stick to their agenda!

  8. Helen Lord April 11, 2018 at 3:23 pm #

    So sad to read these comments but I’m sure every social worker would say something similar. I was off sick with anxiety 2.5 years into my first full time SW position after supportive managers left and I couldn’t maintain working every evening and weekend. My caseload was ridiculous (36 children) and I had a number of high risk cases which I constantly worried about and court work I had to undertake. I now work in the voluntary sector and am off with anxiety after maternity leave. Part of the anxiety is around returning to a post where I worry I’ll be unable to balance the work with 2 young children.

  9. Lola April 11, 2018 at 3:23 pm #

    I’ve been a practice manager for years and have always questioned, suggested and requested that therapy be compulsive for all social work practitioner. The pressure to meet the needs of all the children for the social workers is immense. Case loads are dangerously high, London wide. This creates anxiety and reactive /chaotic practice. As a practice manager I am also expected to know all the cases allocated to the social workers I line manager (6-7 social workers). Children and their families deserve better, social workers need lower case loads, we joined this career because we want to help make a difference not add to the problem these families are already faced with.

  10. C kingham April 11, 2018 at 4:20 pm #

    As a retired SW I can tell you that this is nothing new. In the early 1980 we could have as many as 50 cases. The difference is is the paperwork and computers which do not necessarily make life easier. Court visits can take up most of your day and a complex case can take weeks of court work. Statutory visits and CIN cases leave little time for meaningful work with a family.SW used to engage in therapeutic work with families and used to alleviate need and hunger. SW are now the Social Police monitoring with little power to help families in need. It has always been necessary to work long hours with little time off. I thought nothing of being out until midnight if there was a crisis.
    Something has to change. Tick box visits are just not good enough. Families need to develop trust in you before you can create changes. Too many rash judgements are made based on very little evidence. SW are professionals but have never been treated as such. Councils have always exploited their goodwill. There should not be an expectation that SW will work overtime for no pay. Nurses do not do it.
    We owe the children that we protect a duty of care and SW do care about the families that they help. Who cares for the carers?
    Increased pressure and case loads too high to manage, not to mention the physical assaults on SW results in poor health and stress. When you fall apart you will be ditched. No wonder it is hard to recruit staff.

    • Margaret wood April 12, 2018 at 9:51 pm #

      I retired from local authority social work in 2009 . It sounds as if nothing has changed. It is a low status occupation,undervalued by managers and elected councillors of all parties.you are kidded on to get qualified, so you do, and then find your skills and social work values are disregarded…Your health, both mental and physical, can suffer with the stress…I left after thirty years with shingles, breast cancer , and a lingering feeling of failure ….though I did enjoy some of the work!Now my grand daughter she would like to train as a children and families social worker to make a difference…. I have told her no one can , they won’t let you…please don’t go there. Heed my words you young ones.

      • RUTH DALZELL April 14, 2018 at 10:06 am #

        Margaret I can only agree with you. I only gave up my registration this year but for most of the last 20+years have been involved in training and development with a little direct practice. It’s been depressing to see the erosion of opportunities for SW’s to develop and practice those skills that we hold dear in the profession. I have kept on trying to nurture and support good practice whilst acknowledging how very challenging the environment is though.I have some heartening examples of great practice along the way but more examples of SW feeling and sounding like many in these posts. I responded to your post because weirdly, I had the same connected illnesses. I’m sure stress contributed. I also think there could be a link although have never found one mentioned.

  11. Fiona Simmons April 11, 2018 at 4:43 pm #

    Surely, these comments are a sad reflection on management. I have often felt that all blame placed on individual social workers, when in fact, the responsibility lies with management.

  12. David Crump April 11, 2018 at 7:01 pm #

    This is nothing short of criminal negligence on the part of Team Managers/Snr Managers and Council leaders and has been going on for far too long !

  13. Gail J Keeley April 11, 2018 at 7:27 pm #

    SWs working in other disciplines are under same pressures. I’m an ‘experienced’ SW-10+yrs qualified with colleagues with more and less experience with caseload of 25-30! This includes adult protection, guardianship, mental health, learning disabilities older adults in a climate of reducing resources and funds. Many resorting to anti depression medication, early retirement or change of profession. Sad that the caring professions cannot care for themselves or each other.

  14. Amo Virdi April 11, 2018 at 7:42 pm #

    The job is just in unmanageable even though I feel I manage and support my Team well. The Pre birth Team I work is highly risky.

  15. Helen April 11, 2018 at 10:08 pm #

    Wow so powerful and makes for emotional reading. I can relate to most of these and I work in adults – its everywhere in the profession. I used to be so proud of social work (and still am to an extent) but now I find it so exhausting and relentless and a dis-service to those we support. If we are all feeling this way – what do we do about it?! Its time for change before the wheels fall off completely.

    • Jenny Weinstein April 12, 2018 at 8:13 pm #

      My daughter in law works with adults. She often goes back to office at weekends or does not get home till 9. It is stressful for her and her family and she till feels her clients need more. The problem is not enough social workers because of funding. If preventive services were available to families there would be less abuse, neglect and mental illness.

  16. karin burke April 12, 2018 at 12:06 am #

    I can relate to most if these comments. Particularly the one about being one of the most experienced in a CP team despite only qualifying in 2015

  17. Holly April 12, 2018 at 1:28 am #

    Instead in this extra funding for adoption, don’t that look like the existing social force is struggling to a point of breaking, the funds need to be put on new staff, asap

  18. Joth April 12, 2018 at 3:00 am #

    If youre a caring and compassionate person dont go into social work, it’ll eat you alive

    • Victoria April 13, 2018 at 8:31 am #

      Amen.

  19. eileen quigley April 12, 2018 at 12:31 pm #

    what is the answer??

  20. Lu April 12, 2018 at 2:48 pm #

    I have just left my CP social work job due to stress and overwelming, innapropite pressure from my manager. I am also Dyslexic. I love social work and the families i work with but the stress I was under meant that I was unable to do my job appropiatly.
    I feel that more support is needed for caseloads and NQSW and older social workes that want time to continue their development.
    When I was training all the social workers I met always said ‘don’t go into social work’. I thought that I would love the work and that would be enough.
    Social Work is in crisis and need immidiate solutions to support its current staff that are drowning under the work. Nobody I have met yet in social work is ‘managing’. Better support is needed for the management teams so they can then supprot us as ‘social workers’.

  21. Di April 12, 2018 at 3:36 pm #

    I worked in the private sector until recently when I took early retirement due to an unmanageable caseload. Ten years ago my caseload was fine but gradually the numbers and expectations rose until I had to work increasing amounts of overtime to keep up with the work. The saving grace was being able to work from home which gave me a lot of flexibility but the issue that really saddened me was being told the company had to make cuts at the same time as the investors skimmed off massive profits each year rather than reinvest in services for the children. These profits of course ultimately come from public funds. In the end I found it sickening especially alongside an unmanageable caseload. I have been a social worker for over 30 years and I don’t know how newly qualified social workers manage these days. I take my hat off to all of you. Keep up the good work if you can.

  22. Chris April 12, 2018 at 6:56 pm #

    This is very sad to read. I have been in the profession for over 30 years and there has always been a certain amount of stress linked to heavy workloads and the need to work long hours. The difference these days seems to be the increase in mechanistic processes and procedures designed for performance management coupled with a top down approach which ends up grinding social workers into the ground and impacts on the way families perceive the service. I fear that the need to be accountable, and the requirements imposed by the government and regulatory bodies, will make it very difficult to change the system and, unfortunately it will continue to spiral into crisis. It will take real visionalry leadership to make any change and experience of Munro has demonstrated what tends to happen when someone does demonstrate this.

  23. Jenny Weinstein April 12, 2018 at 8:14 pm #

    My daughter in law works with adults. She often goes back to office at weekends or does not get home till 9. It is stressful for her and her family and she till feels her clients need more. The problem is not enough social workers because of funding. If preventive services were available to families there would be less abuse, neglect and mental illness.

  24. Kat April 12, 2018 at 8:30 pm #

    And all of those comments are the reason I have just left the social work profession. A very difficult decision I spent at least 18 months trying to make but at the end of the day I had to put my own family’s needs and my health first. There is nowhere near enough time to do the job properly, it’s too big a job for one person.

  25. Sue Smith April 12, 2018 at 9:34 pm #

    This is common place all over the country. Does anyone higher up, ie., Ofsted or anyone have the balls to do anything about it? Or do we have to wait until more children are abused and killed???

  26. Casper April 12, 2018 at 9:55 pm #

    I said all this and more when my friend took her life due to all of the above and Community care published an article at the time , nothing has changed , nothing .
    Social Work Tutor published a book that has been the fastest best seller about social work many more casualties of the profession are in there . No one is listening !.
    All the same stories appear again and again , people suffer and it happens again , this would not happen in any other profession .
    I was lucky to once work in a great team even gaining the Charter Mark for our work but the management are driven by stats and budgets and throughput not social work values and once my personal ethics were being challenged daily this year was time to go before it was too late for me .
    Social work is a brilliant job but being allowed to do it is becoming too hard and I fear for the future of all dedicated social workers.

  27. Too tired to carry on April 12, 2018 at 10:10 pm #

    Social work is not the job it used to be. I qualified some 15years ago and loved my job with children in the care system. I knew each and every one of my kids and their life stories… now , i just aeem to tick the boxes for visits and hardly spend any time with my kids and this means i hardly know them let alone make a decision about what is beat for their future. If the governement really wants to see positive change, they have to put the money where its needed- back into preventative services and cut back on the ardious audits , red tape , crap paperwork thats endlessly repetative ( and lets face it , not really read by anyone) and place the focus back on actual, valuble, proper social work thats focussed on the child and not one our OFSTED outcomes!

  28. Veronica Romero April 13, 2018 at 2:35 am #

    It is heartbreaking that this is still going on. I know I always worried about whether I missed anything and I would end up with a dead toddler. At one point, I specialized in toddlers and couldn’t keep up because there were constant phone calls about one case or another. Eventually, I did what most do I left and never looked back and transferred to hospital care.

  29. Ian Merry April 13, 2018 at 10:12 am #

    As a retired SW of 37 years service I can say that Social Work is the perfect example of a self fulfilling prophesy. First of all say it doesn’t work then deny it the very resources needed to make it work.

    I fear that Social Work is in it’s death throes as a helping profession if rigor mortis has not already set in.

    I cannot see any hope of a phoenix arising from the ashes of social work, as it would take a major sea change from politicians, the media, and leaders. The dead hand of managerialism is at the tiller and the ship is going down.

    So it goes.

    • Mary April 13, 2018 at 1:26 pm #

      I have worked in health and social care for nearly 30 years in learning disabilities. It is the same problem in adults and children services regardless of the settings. I would not blame managers for all the problems, they are qualified and are experiencing both sides of the situation as there is so much pressure to allocate cases and get work done. Trust me, managers are no happy and they knew that situations and practice is unsafe.

      The issues and problems within social work, are nationwide and therefore it requires a national solution. More investment in staff and resources, including allied services such SLT, psychology, nursing, drug and alcohol and MH teams etc. Investment in housing, employment, education, day opportunities, training.

      We see the same problems and issues repeated again and again with individuals and families. If you keep doing the same thing and get the same result, it is time to do something different.

  30. jim April 13, 2018 at 11:54 am #

    the old saying is ”your health is your wealth”!..if those social workers who are working extra hours [up to 50 or more per week?] for nothing average the paid and unpaid hours out to calculate their average hourly rate they would probably be not much worse off [if not better off] by working in Tescos or Asda where they would at least get an enhanced hourly rate for working overtime or at weekends..and even more if they worked their way up into management! with much less stress!

    The Councils have to pay over time and at enhanced rates if they expect their social workers to help the Council’s service users. If not then social workers are just not doing themselves or their clients any good in the long term as they are enabling theie employers to employ them on the cheap. This is a national scam and scandal as social work if done properly the way they want it to be done should be a much more expensive service to deliver in terms of staff costs.

    You only get one chance at life so why should social workers who are unhappy and stressed stay in these nightmarish jobs? Mortgages and families etc will be cited as reasons for some but even a particular house is not worth it if the means to live in it is a great source of stress!

  31. David April 13, 2018 at 1:36 pm #

    Not getting it right for every child then.

  32. frustrated April 13, 2018 at 1:37 pm #

    thanks everyone for their honesty on these replies, it helps to know that the inability to stay in the profession was not personal weakness. the worst thing about being a social worker, working long hours, be caring, compassionate, conscientious, intuitive is that management make you feel these qualities are a problem of your making and faults in your work. So Social Work is impossible. It did eat me alive.

  33. Justine April 14, 2018 at 10:06 am #

    I am so saddened to read this article, if social work was a private industry someone would have reshaped it for greater productivity, staff retention and positive outcomes.

    I have working in social care for almost 30 years, the first 15 years as a family support worker and the rest as a qualified social worker. I came into social work after bein persuaded it would be good for my development…mistake! Being a family support worker was the best years of my career. I reached so many families and children and worked in a team that brought about change and made a difference for the lives of children.

    Social work in the local authorities is case management, report writhe g, number crunching and in effective. Demands upon workers to perform are huge and impacts upon you socially and hugely emotionally. I have always believed that my best performances have been when I feel I can manage my case load and do what is needed for the children, this was always when I had the best management support. Supervision is not for number crunching…it’s to nurture the nurturers. Unfortunately, in the organisation I currently work in I have a PLR every 12 weeks….this is so poor and does not take into account your emotional needs. I know over the years I learnt you have to look after yourself and have developed that for myself through good work life balance and ways of destressing, finding support from collegues and at time seeking talking therpies.

    If social work was a private industry the workforce would be suing the employer for work based injuries ….because all around me I have seen the devisating impact of poor managment, bullying, discrimination and mostly little regard for the transference of trauma upon the workers.

    I don’t know what the answer are but I have enough experience to say what I have seen, felt and experienced over the years to understand that now matter how resilient you are …you will be affected and so will your life.

    The motivator for me to continue at the moment is always the children I work with….and that you are protecting them and making a difference to their lives and futures.

  34. Anderson April 18, 2018 at 12:51 am #

    Community Care is the premier medium for social work and one must reasonably presume it is valued by those in the profession including managers at all levels. What lessons are THEY drawing from this distressingly bleak article and also from the equally distressing comments? As this is not the first article of its kind to raise these sorts of concerns over the years, one is tempted to infer that NO lessons are being drawn and yet those same managers would surely expect social workers to digest SCRs and doubtless develop and improve their practice accordingly (assuming they have the time to read the SCRs). Social work’s overall purpose is to address the complex needs of the most vulnerable and dysfunctional members of our communities with empathy, compassion and sensitivity even when the most coercive and invasive mechanisms are rightly employed. Why is that such empathy, compassion and sensitivity appears to be withheld from so many of its workforce? This constant theme of excessive caseloads (not to mention torturously repetitive documentation) continues to drive far too many deeply committed individuals to look elsewhere for their employment. I am now making plans to move into alternative employment after many years in this profession and I could easily refer to most of the above comments as a powerful influence behind this difficult decision.

  35. Kerri April 18, 2018 at 10:35 am #

    After 10 years as a child protection social worker I recently resigned. The pressure was relentless. Caseloads were overwhelming and diverse in complexity and the team i was in were on their knees. Managers were unsupportive and would demean and berate staff. Emails would be sent out naming and shaming those who were “under performing”. As many social workers have said, I too was working for free at least 50 hours a month, trying to stay afloat. This was not appreciated by managers who normalised and expected it. Instead of looking forward to going on holiday i would worry because i knew that upon my return to work several of my cases would have “kicked off” in my absence and i would be dealing with the chaos and crisis. That is no way to live. A job I trained for and once had great satisfaction from, became an impossible nightmare. My sanity, health and family are my priority now. I would never go back The local authority have well and truly had their pound of flesh out of me and many other social workers.

  36. Carol April 19, 2018 at 9:14 pm #

    Right.. I am sick and tired of hearing about bullying culture in this profession. I myself will not tolerate it and thick skinned. I evidence everything if there is even a notion.. tone of bullying from anyone. I know my rights. Don’t even go there I say.
    We must stand up. I have watched former colleagues become a former shell of themselves. WE ARE NOT TAKenANYMORE

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