Right Under Their Inflexible Noses

Despite the desperate need for social workers, employers are still
reluctant to offer genuinely flexible working arrangements. As a
result, skilled practitioners like myself are prevented from
rejoining the workforce unless we agree to work full time.

I qualified in 1989 and have worked with children and families as a
manager and as a practitioner. Over the past five years I have been
on a career break while I bring up my daughter, but I am now toying
with the idea of finding regular part-time work.

The trouble is that in real terms “flexible working” means very
little. Local authority policies look laudable enough on paper, but
when I have asked about working only in term time or during school
hours I have been told “there are after-school clubs in the area”
or “you could take your leave for some of the holidays”.

I have no grandparents or family close by who can help out, while
the cost of formal child care is prohibitive and not my preferred
option anyway. So I take my daughter to school and pick her up and
look after her myself during the school holidays.

I realise that this is my personal choice but there must be many
others like me who have a great deal to offer social services
departments, albeit within limited hours.

I could work during term time between 9.15am and 2.45pm. I realise
that allocating cases on this basis creates difficulties with cover
when crises arise. So why not look at how such hours could be used
to release full-time staff from other duties so they can focus on
their caseloads? People like me could surely help by doing things
such as chairing reviews and strategy meetings or dealing with
unallocated cases.

I have heard all the arguments against my proposals. To be honest,
before I was in this situation I may myself have been guilty of
this kind of thinking. But it seems to me that the recruitment
crisis in social work – and in other industries – could be
alleviated if experienced staff were truly welcomed and employed in
ways that fitted in with their other commitments.

From the conversations I have had with so many competent and
creative women at the school gates, I know that I am not alone in
my experience. What a waste of much needed talent!

Jackie Bush is a qualified freelance social worker

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