Social workers stretched and overburdened

Children’s social workers are dealing with up to 60 cases at a time while half of staff and managers in both children’s and adult care work more than their contracted hours.

Early findings of a Social Work Task Force survey showed that only 29% stuck to their contracted hours, while 12% worked fewer, usually due to sickness.

But for many the working week was considerably longer, with nearly one in 10 reporting at least nine extra hours a week.

The survey asked 1,153 social workers and managers in about 25 local authorities and voluntary sector organisations to keep a diary of their working week.

The average caseload for children’s social workers was 11-15, with 4% handling more than 60 cases; the average for adults’ social workers was 16-20.

Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social workers, said the figures on working hours underestimated the true scale of the problem.

“Some of our members are banking up huge amounts of time off in lieu and not taking their holidays,” she said. “It is also possible that staff don’t want to own up to how many extra hours they are doing for fear of looking like they’re not coping.”

Pile reiterated Unison’s call for national standards of acceptable caseloads.

Lord Laming, whose national review of child protection in March found caseloads for children’s social workers were “consistently high”, said: “I believe management has to decide [caseloads based] on the demands of each case, the experience of the member of staff, the number of children in the family and the range of other services involved.”

The taskforce will present its final recommendations to improve the profession in England next month.

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Survey findings

● Those who took work home at the weekends worked for an average of 12 extra hours

● In one week, respondents spent 26% of their time in direct contact with service users

● They spent 34% of their time on other case-related work, such as recording, and 13% on inter-agency work.

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