High caseloads: stress takes toll on social workers’ health

High caseloads are taking a heavy toll on social workers' health, with many working excessive hours, Community Care's survey has found.

High caseloads are taking a heavy toll on social workers’ health, with many working excessive hours, Community Care‘s survey has found.

“I regularly see my colleagues breaking down as they cannot physically, mentally or emotionally cope with juggling the amount of cases they are holding. When they seek support nothing changes,” said an adults’ social worker.

“I already feel ‘burnt out’ yet have only been a professional social worker for six months,” said one newly qualified adults’ social worker.

“I worked 60-plus hours a week just to keep visits up and do the work that the children and parents needed,” said a children’s social worker.

“In a previous job I had over 30 cases within a half-time working week. I have hypertension, which I personally do believe has come about partly due to the stress of social work over the years,” said a social worker in adult services.

“I left my post because of the demands and caseloads and felt I could not give a good service to any one individual or family because I never had the time, predominantly because paperwork was horrendous, my home life also suffered and my own children began to resent my job as I was permanently tired and stressed out,” revealed one children’s social worker.

“Due to a stressful caseload in excess of 30 in January 2010 I began to collapse while driving from a home visit in January this year. Medical tests showed I had no conditions to cause this. High caseload were acknowledged by my manager,” said another children’s social worker.

Other social workers reported always working through their lunch breaks, working many hours of unpaid overtime each week and interrupting their annual leave to deal with cases. Social workers also reported always having time off in lieu (Toil) owed to them but being unable to take this.

“I am generally always owed about a week’s ‘Toil’ and I no longer record this once its gets over 40 hours. I often work weekends and have to interrupt my leave,” said a Cafcass social worker.

Richard Jones, policy and technical director at the Institution of Occupational Health and Safety (IOSH), said: “Social work, though rewarding and fulfilling, can also be emotionally demanding and potentially stressful. So, it’s absolutely vital that social workers have manageable caseloads and adequate support. This will protect their health and well-being and enable them to perform at their best. Managers need to monitor how many hours are being worked by all staff and make sure hours and workload are within safe and reasonable limits.”

Unison officer Helga Pile, said: “The toll on the health of practitioners of excessive hours, stress and overload is storing up a huge problem for the future – and let’s remember it’s service users who suffer as well.”

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Read our special report on social worker vacancy rates. Click on our interactive map to find vacancy rates in your council

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