Amy Taylor investigates how a new initiative in Hampshire is helping children’s social workers manage their caseloads
High caseloads are a well documented problem in social care. In his safeguarding progress report last March, Lord Laming recommended the development of national guidelines setting out maximum caseloads for children-in-need and child protection cases supported by a weighting mechanism. The government supports the proposal and the Social Work Taskforce will produce guidelines on children and adult social worker caseloads in the autumn.
Steph How is the manager of Basingstoke Referral and Assessment team at Hampshire Council’s children’s services department. She welcomes the idea of a maximum caseload limit but says having a set figure will present challenges for managers.
“To manage having a set limit would be more complicated (than not having a limit). As a manager the issue for me is much more about knowing your team.
“You need to know your individuals, know their own capacity, know their own skills base, know what their strengths are and be able to look at their stresses and how their stress individually manifests itself.
“If we set a limit there’s a danger that those who are not capable of working to that feel under pressure to meet it and it may not always be enough for some workers.”
She adds that while there is no formal caseload limit in operation in her team she is highly aware of what this is for each of her staff.
“I don’t have a set number of cases I see as the limit for each individual social worker but as a manager I have a very clear understanding of when I can’t give them anymore.
“The limit would need to consist of a realistic amount of cases and I like to think that my social workers wouldn’t have any more than that anyway.”
How’s team don’t have any unallocated cases and when there are high numbers coming in the team will look at what procedures, such as the Common Assessment Framework, could help to take the strain or if universal services in the community could help.
For How supervision is a key detail in relation to caseloads. Before allocating every case she reviews the level of work her staff member already has and feels they would be confident enough to speak out if they felt overloaded.
“We talk about caseloads and allocation of new cases probably on a daily basis. Each time I have got a new case to allocate I look at their (the social worker’s) caseload, review it and look at what I have recorded at supervision. I will know exactly what cases they have got and what kind of work is going on on those cases.
“Every effort is made to allocate cases to staff directly, face to face and following debate and appropriate action planning. Clearly there are some circumstances when this is not possible immediately but every effort is made to meet with that member of staff as soon as possible. I am clear that electronic allocation of cases only is not good practice and discussions are required. As a team we are trying to further develop this practice and we are considering regular case load allocation meetings within the team.
“If I allocated a case to a member of my team and they did not believe they had the capacity to take it I feel very confident they would tell me.”
New posts to save social workers time
In recognition of the administrative burden which is contained in children’s social workers’ caseloads Hampshire Council has just invested £730,000 in 28 additional safeguarding support staff – one per operational children’s services team.
The support worker has just started in How’s team. She says the council had a high number of applications for the post and it will allow her social workers to spend more time working face to face with clients.
“Following Baby P and Laming there was a clear understanding that social workers were spending lots of time doing administrative tasks such as raising payments on the system and admin associated with accommodating a child. The person who does that doesn’t need to be a social worker,” she says.
The new posts are part of £1.2m of new investment in safeguarding by the council. Other measures include improved mobile technology to enable social workers to work away from the office and the recruitment of three extra social work practitioners, based at the council’s call centre, to lead on safeguarding inquiries from the public.
The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report