Los Angeles County officials agree to lower social worker caseloads following six-day strike

LA strikes reflect a question often bandied about in the UK: how much is too much when it comes to caseloads?

Shadow of an adult and child
Credit: Gary Brigden

By Rachel Schraer

Social workers in Los Angeles County went on strike last week over excessive caseloads, with one practitioner claiming they deal with two or three times the “ideal” number of cases, putting children in danger.

In the first strike of its kind in a decade, 3,500 social workers picketed the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), demanding the hiring of an extra 1,300 staff to help relieve the strain, according to the Huffington Post.

Social workers insisted the strike was “not about money” but about children’s safety being compromised when caseloads become too high to manage.

Supervising social worker Joan Marks told the Huffington Post: “Workers are going out every other day on stress leave. We want to do service for our clients, spend more time with them, make sure there’s quality care.”

An American Humane Association study conducted in 2000 suggests a manageable caseload for children’s social workers is 14.

DCFS director Philip Browning said the study’s findings were out-of-date, published before the advent of technology like smartphones that can make social work more efficient.

Social workers counter that their jobs have become more demanding in those years, since more is expected of them. The extension of foster care to young people up to the age of 21, for example, has added to the strain (a similar extension has just been applied in the UK).

Now, after six days on strike, LA County officials have agreed to make a commitment to lowering caseloads.

The strikes echo feelings in the UK, with more than half of the 650 social workers surveyed by Liquid Personnel in September feeling that their caseloads are unmanageable.

In 2012, research by Community Care revealed that half of all social workers had seen a colleague leave their team over the course of a year due to high caseloads.

In a profession most people enter because they want to help people, turning down cases or complaining about workloads can be difficult both personally and professionally. The strikes in the US reflect questions often asked in the UK: how much is too much when it comes to caseloads? And how can the well-being of social workers, as well as the children in their care, be protected?

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