Adass: ‘There’s always more that can be done to understand social work pressures’

Responding to Community Care’s job-seeking research, directors' leader David Pearson says involving social workers in future change will help boost morale

social work manager illustration
Illustration: James Gibbs

Directors could do more to understand the pressures social workers are facing but immediate managers have the greatest influence on day-to-day experiences, according to the president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass).

David Pearson was responding to Community Care and advertising agency TMP’s survey of 2,100 social workers on job-seeking behaviour, which reported this month. It found almost one in 10 (8%) social workers were looking to quit the profession because of high caseloads, stress and the resulting impact on their health, while 94% were feeling more day-to-day pressure than ever before.

Pearson agreed the findings were a “matter of concern”.

“I think that people know that there is a lot of pressure in relation to the delivery of social services and directors are concerned about the issues facing adult social care,” he said.

“Directors have to understand the overall pressures faced by social workers but clearly the day-to-day experiences are more influenced by their immediate manager.”

“Many directors do stay in touch with the front line in terms of understanding through visits or back-to-the-floor exercises, but that doesn’t mean to say that there isn’t always more that can be done,” he added.

Pearson added that it was important to involve social workers in future changes, as many staff were finding the resulting changes of budget cuts a challenge.

He said: “We need to make sure wherever possible social workers and other staff are involved in helping to design the future rather than just being the recipients of it – and that goes for service users as well.”

The research also found that six out of 10 social workers would not recommend their employer, with poor management and supervision cited as the primary reason for this. One respondent said: “Staff do not feel that senior management are fighting their corner anymore.”

In response to this finding, Pearson was optimistic that the introduction of principal social workers, 130 of which are now in place in adult social care, would make a difference in “profiling the needs of social workers”.

He said that the role of the principal social workers was to be vocal about what social workers can do and what they need to do to be prepared properly, and also to take part in gathering knowledge and research around social work.

“I think those things are important for morale in the sense that this is partly about how you feel on a day-to-day basis about how you are valued but also about having confidence in what you are doing,” he said.

“The other issue is making sure we are focusing on the development of leaders in social care settings,” he added. “People flourish when they are in a high challenge but high support environment so there needs to be both elements of that equation in place.”

The Adass president said that promoting good social work practice could also boost morale among employees.

“There have been many thousands of people over the last 50 years whose lives have been made very different and much more enriched by the work that social workers do,” he said.

“We need to work with the media to get some decent stories out there about how social workers have transformed people’s lives.”

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said in a statement that a climate of diminishing resources and increasing demand had prompted “creative and innovative” changes in both delivering services and management structures.

“These approaches aren’t without consequences, but local authorities are doing their utmost to ensure staff feel well supported and valued.”

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