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We’re in trouble when social workers who love the job feel forced to quit

The Magic Roundabout’s Ermintrude (Image: Moviestore Collection/Rex Features)

Why are people who love social work feeling they have no option but to leave frontline practice? This blog by former mental health social worker Ermintrude2 on why she left a job that was ‘in many ways, perfect’  gives an insight into the pressures faced by services and – perhaps more importantly – the despondency that can set in when senior management don’t seem to want to listen to the concerns of experienced frontline staff.

Make sure to read Ermintrude’s piece in full but here’s one excerpt (entitled a ‘message to the executive team’) that I’d bet sums up the frustration felt by many mental health social workers at the moment:

If you want to provide a really good quality service you have to listen to people other than those within your own echo chamber of management or leadership who are invested in agreeing with you. Staff want to work in ways which are fulfilling. We want to provide good care to people but the systems we work in are stripping that potential away and if we can’t do that, we can’t continue in it. We don’t want to be cramming people into wards which are further and further away because you’ve decommissioned local beds.

We don’t want to be providing what we know are poor home care services because the council will only pay minimum wage and commissions on cost rather than quality. We don’t want to have to look further and further away for poorer and cheaper residential and nursing care. We want to be doing the creative support planning with personal budgets but then, it’s hard to be creative with five hours care when someone needs to use that for support with washing and dressing for the whole week. We want to be advocates and we want to drive and provide good care but have no access to good care. We want to support families and carers but we don’t have the time or the resources to.

And for you?

You need to listen. You need to listen because sometimes the people who are going out there and providing the services you, as executives are responsible for, know what they are doing and know the communities better than you do. You need to listen to people who access the services and their families and actually change things on the basis of what you are told – rather than just listening to MPs or local press as the people who contact MPs are not more valuable than those who are unable to – they just have different skills. You need to be honest – most of all. We know the cuts are coming but when you tell us this is about ‘service improvement’ we can’t ever trust you again.

For me, one of the saddest thing’s about Ermintrude2‘s post is that her experience is far from unique. In the past few months I’ve heard from two experienced mental health social workers working in different parts of the country who have quit their roles, not because they didn’t like the job, but because they cared about it so much that they couldn’t stand feeling that they were providing a poor service to their communities. When I asked them why they were quitting, almost everything quoted above was mentioned.

At the moment there is a lot of energy, not to mention public funding, going into schemes to recruit the next generation of social workers. It strikes me as sad that the same attention isn’t given to addressing some of the issues that seem to be driving committed and experienced staff out of the profession.

is Community Care’s community editor

About Andy McNicoll

Andy is community editor at Community Care, with a focus on reporting on mental health. He has previously worked for titles focusing on the NHS and substance misuse sectors. You can contact him at

5 Responses to We’re in trouble when social workers who love the job feel forced to quit

  1. Sarah 24 September , 2013 at 11:52 am #

    It’s not just mental health – adoption social workers are saying much the same thing. It’s too important a job & one that means so much to us, that many social workers can’t bear to keep working in systems they think are giving a bad service.

  2. Phil 24 September , 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    The same is true in Children’s Services. I’d wanted to be a social worker for over 20 years and qualified as a social worker in 2010. Since then, in the world of child protection work, there has been unrelenting pressure that was never matched by my working in the private sector previously. I love the work, I’ve even been told I’m pretty good at it, but my mental health has suffered because of crippling caseloads. I’m hoping that when I return to work I’ll manage but if not I will have to leave and that saddens me.

  3. Caroline 24 September , 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    Just left my job as s/w in CMHT and totally agree with above comments. ! The caseloads are ridiculously high, the demands from managers relentless and the red tape…… Don’t get me started!!! This continious pressure, useless supervision and poor management left my own mental health needing some attention. The overall morale in the team was at rock bottom, the service in my opinion, is an accident waiting to happen.

    • Julie 25 September , 2013 at 12:21 pm #

      I again am saddened to say that I agree whole heartedly with all the above comments. I have recently left a Team Managers post in social work with many years of experience as I could no longer support the organisation which continually heaps more responsibility, caseloads and paperwork onto a workforce that is doing its best to deliver good outcomes for people but who are prevented from doing so by the systems that we are forced to operate within. As a manager I found that to try to change or question the system was impossible if I wanted to continue within it.

  4. Sabine 25 September , 2013 at 10:31 am #

    I left my job in a LAC team, because due to continuous restructure following a bad Ofsted report, LAC was more or less abandoned and heavy end CP was to be the main fodder. Add to it that I was a part-timer (3 days) due to ME, having almost more cases than weekly hours coupled with my concerns that I would not be able to provide a good service to the young people I worked with, I in the end capitulated.

    Honestly, I have not looked back, despite dropping from a 36 to a 31 on the pay scale. Money is not all, working in a way that helps others make positive changes to their life, job satisfaction, a lovely circle of mutually supportive colleagues is what the girl needs.

    Saying that I keep my registration going in case I get some locum work. I have since also qualified as an NLP practitioner. I have in total 33 years of experience under the belt, 25 years of those in the UK.

    I was in a way sad to leave Social work, but for me it was the right thing to do.