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.
Andy McNicoll is Community Care’s community editor