Red tape too much for many social workers

Excessive bureaucracy is a major factor threatening to drive up to a quarter of social workers out of the profession, disturbing new evidence reveals.

An exclusive Community Care survey of more than 1,100 social workers finds that one in four are thinking of leaving social work altogether.

The most important thing that would persuade them to change their minds is less paperwork and more time spent with clients, which would sway more than two-thirds of those considering leaving.

The survey, sponsored by the British Association of Social Workers, shows that three-quarters of social workers spend more than 40% of their time on administrative tasks rather than in direct contact with clients.

Andrew Cozens, strategic adviser for children, adult and health services at the Improvement and Development Agency, said the problem was not so much the quantity of paperwork, but the type of paperwork and the extent to which it was simply feeding bureaucratic processes.

“This is tied up with performance regimes being focused on inputs and outputs,” Cozens said. “People are spending a lot of time feeding the performance machinery rather than focusing on outcomes for service users.”

Other important factors that would persuade those considering leaving the profession to stay include more resources for services, cited by 61%, and better pay for staff (59%).

There is also an issue about meeting post-registration training and learning requirements, with nearly 60% of social workers finding it somewhat or very difficult to take five days out of their normal working year for their professional development.

Most social workers are confident that registering people who work in social care will eventually raise the profile of the workforce and improve the quality of services.

However, the survey reveals widespread anxiety. But nearly three-quarters of the 1,100-plus social workers surveyed admit feeling worried or negative about the future of the profession, and 36% predict that social work as a distinct discipline is unlikely to exist in five years’ time.

One factor in this is the likely shift towards integrated working arrangements – half of social workers are now co-located with professionals from health, housing and education compared with one-third in our 204 survey. More than a quarter of social workers are worried that this growth in multi-agency working will result in social work values being diluted.

BASW chief executive Ian Johnston said negative attitudes reflected social workers’ working conditions: “We need to get people more involved in successful interventions. Practice involves firefighting most of the time and it doesn’t tend to work.”

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