Taskforce: case complexity should decide caseload caps

Individual employers should be responsible for capping social workers’ caseloads according to the complexity of cases, the chair of the Social Work Task Force said today.

Moira Gibb told a press conference that the taskforce decided against a national limit for caseloads in favour of a more flexible and transparent caseload management system.

“Very few people – I think two that I met – supported the idea of a single figure caseload limit, because the work they do is so different,” said Gibb.

“A team that works with disabled children, for example, is very different from a team working in mental health or at the frontline of child protection.”

She added that the taskforce wants employers to take responsibility for putting a ceiling on caseloads on a team-by-team basis.

The final report of the taskforce, commissioned by the government to carry out an in-depth review of the social work profession in England, said: “The feedback the taskforce has received from organisations that have tried to implement formal caseload management systems (including weighted systems) suggests that they struggle to cope with all of the variables affecting practice on the frontline.”

The taskforce has recommended that employers conduct an immediate “health check” on issues like caseloads and unallocated cases, and that the results are published.

Helga Pile, national officer for social workers at Unison and taskforce member, told Community Care that more transparency would encourage employers to admit when there is a problem.

“Some organisations know they’ve got serious problems but don’t want to lift the lid on them because they’re fearful of the hit squads being sent in, the bad publicity and the fact they haven’t got the money to do anything about it,” she said.

She added that, if the process was more open, local authorities could draw on expert advice about how to bring caseloads down.

Lord Laming’s national review of child protection in March found caseloads for children’s social workers were “consistently high”.

A taskforce survey found 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.

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