Many social workers still do not feel able to make their own decisions despite the Munro Report recommending they be freed up to do so, according to research.
The study, conducted by King’s College London, analysed data collected as part of two evaluations on social worker practices between 2009 and 2013. It covered 5,028 practitioners across 22 local authorities in total.
No impact of high profile policies
The social workers were asked to complete the Maslach Burnout Inventory and the Karasek job control questionnaire which was compared alongside a policy and media analysis.
The study found that despite the numerous different policy changes and high profile media scandals since 2009, including the Baby P scandal, the Laming Report, the Munro Report and the launch of The College of Social Work – there had been little or no impact on the low job control social workers experienced.
The Munro Report, published in 2011, advocated freeing social workers from the demands of managerialism and bureaucracy to improve professionalism.
One in four in “high strain jobs”
Dr Shereen Hussein, Principal Research Fellow and lead author of the study, told the Joint Social Work Education Committee Conference in Milton Keynes last month, that 25% of social workers were in “high strain” jobs with high demand and low control leading to unresolved stress.
“This is not a good place to be – particularly if your public image is not great,” Hussein added.
“When you actually chart all the different policy changes as a timeline you see a pattern of organisations or reports set up as the answer and then later abolished – such as the National Safeguarding Delivery Unit.
“There seems to be a real gap between policy intention and practice.”
Social worker burnout sensitive to media coverage
Hussein said burnout and psychological job demand were sensitive to the ‘burden’ of media coverage with particularly high levels seen in 2009 but with rates steadily improving since.
The study also found there were differences by specialism with children’s social workers displaying significantly higher levels of burnout and lower levels of personal accomplishment than adult social workers. However, Hussein highlighted that these differences might be related to the different periods of the surveys targeting children and adult social workers.
In comparison, Community Care’s research last month, in partnership with Queen’s University, Belfast, found levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation (emotional hardening towards service users) among adult social workers were often higher than among children’s social workers.