Social work diary: ‘Writing the assessment takes all morning’

A children's social worker reflects on a week of timecale pressures


I have a child protection case involving a teenager visiting a man who has been prosecuted but not convicted for sexual abuse. The parents are spurning the agency’s concerns but it has to be monitored. My breakfast is interrupted by a phone call from a police officer to arrange a joint visit to the man that afternoon. He dismisses our concerns and keeps telling us that he wasn’t convicted. Patiently, we explain the different burden of proof in criminal cases and child protection work.

Later, I visit to the parents to begin work to help them protect their son. It’s a difficult visit and I don’t make much progress.


Our records aren’t always up to date and the morning is spent trying to track down a family who have moved. I have to trace them through the health visitor; the phone number she gives me is unobtainable, so I make an unannounced visit and luckily find the mother and child in. The mother explains she has a new mobile number. I carry out the assessment, hoping I can get it written within the timescale.


I get a phone call from a junior school; the parents of three children on my caseload have decided to home educate them and withdrawn them from school today. They have difficulty providing proper care for the children, and while they mentioned home schooling in the past, gave no indication they were going to take this step.

I had just completed a core assessment of them last week and it is awaiting approval – now it will have to be changed by Friday.

I visit a family where one child had cancer, now in remission. She tells me that when she was last in hospital, the doctors never asked her views about treatment. This surprises me. She tells me she felt very left out of these important decisions.


I visit the teenager I saw on Monday, and try to get to know him better. He’s polite but shares little, so developing the relationship will be a challenge.

Later, I visit the family who are home schooling. The children are happy about not going to school and looking forward to trips to museums and other activities. The parents have many ideas about what to teach the children, but I am worried about their lack of socialising with others.

I email the education department, alerting them to my concerns and hope whoever visits will be able to assess the effectiveness of the parent’s home education plan. Updating the core assessment takes the rest of the day and early evening.


The timescale on the case where I was struggling to trace the mother and child is up and writing the assessment takes all morning.

My manager asked me to transfer one of my cases to a colleague, as the client wants a female social worker. I take over one of my colleague’s cases in return – it involves two children in care. Their mother suffers from severe depression, making it hard for her to care for them. When I visit the children, they describe graphically their experience when their mother once spent three days in bed. Luckily a relative and neighbours helped out with cooking and getting them to school.


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12 Responses to Social work diary: ‘Writing the assessment takes all morning’

  1. Pancho October 10, 2016 at 11:46 am #

    There aren’t many jobs where you clock on and the first thing you do is have breakfast. In most jobs you’d be expected to have breakfast before you arrive, or go hungry.

    • A Man Called Horse October 10, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

      Hello Pancho. You are obviously not a Social Worker. First we don’t clock on, we often work out of the office and frequently start before 9.00am and work after 5.00pm.

      Your post kind of implies that Social Workers are lazy without actually saying that. Read the article again, it gives a taste of the complexities of doing this type of work. You are right in only one respect there are few jobs like it. The work is closely supervised and monitored by managers but unlike say a job in a factory you don’t clock on or off. The work is challenging and you don’t need permission to have a coffee break or for that matter eat breakfast.

      I think you have some kind of an axe to grind don’t you? Please feel free to comment as you are obviously well informed about the life of a Social worker.

      • Pancho October 11, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

        I am quite well informed my dear horse having been a qualified social worker in continuous employment since 1993.

        Quite a number of local authorities do actually require social workers to clock on and off, either on a machine or by logging in on a PC, although not all do.

        My use of the term clock on was turn of phrase, and no intended to be the literal truth.

        Anyway, you could do with being a bit better informed yourself as your reply contains at least 2 obvious and undeniable inaccuracies and at least 2 others which are debatable.

        Our maligned profession doesn’t do itself many favours by continually being see to be whingers……poor me, look at all the work I have to do, I don’t even have time to eat properly.

    • Kazb October 10, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

      You don’t know when the SW arrived at work, I have colleagues who have children who have breakfast when they arrive at work sitting at their desk and are still working.

      Really not a helpful comment to make.

  2. Skye October 10, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

    How do you know the phone call was not made whilst they were still at home having breakfast? The high workloads and tight time-scales often mean children’s social workers have to work in their own time in order to provide the protection they know these children need.

  3. Mark October 10, 2016 at 3:30 pm #

    Very honest appraisal of the many tasks to be done in short periods of time.

    Poncho – I have breakfast at work because I am there significantly before I get paid (clock on) in order to do the mountain of work. I am very confident this is also true with the professional in this case.

    • Pancho October 11, 2016 at 9:28 am #

      You are clearly an honourable man Mark. I’ve been in this game 25 years but only worked in 4 teams so my experience is limited

      . This is what I’ve found: many people turn up between half eight and half nine then have breakfast while they chat about the telly the kids and the traffic . Then some time between 12 and 1 they,ll eat their dinner before popping into town for bread or milk or a birthday card, before spending the afternoon bemoaning the lack of time they have to write up all their reports, reviews, assessments.

      • Jenny October 11, 2016 at 12:46 pm #

        I have worked as and with social workers for several decades. I would be very interested to know where you got this experience Pancho. It is not an environment for practice which I remotely recognise. My experience is of social workers who have brutal work schedules, normally feel guilty about even taking five minutes to eat a sandwich and regularly work way above and beyond acceptable working hours.Many do not even have the luxury of a desk and an office and have the unenvious task of working from their cars or home. Social workers have to suffer the hostility of the wider society and in particular political classes and I am disappointed to read such negative comments from one of our own.

      • Mark October 11, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

        Many thanks Pancho and apologies for accidently misspelling your name previously.

        You are right – there is of course diversity in how teams and individuals operation.

        In this case I think we should give the author the benefit of the doubt as we lack evidence to suggest that he is in any way lacking in his practice.

        All the best,


      • Katie October 12, 2016 at 6:27 pm #

        I remember working in an office like this when I started as a SW in 1994. There was also only one computer in the office which mostly sat on the fridge, happy days eh!

        Just before I left SW in 2014, I was logging on at home at 7.30am, catching up with work and reports from the previous day, checking for emails especially those regarding meetings for that day, then going into the office, maybe getting my lunch before the cut-off time at 2.30pm, staying late until the offices closed, and working again at home until the system closed down at 11pm.

        In these times when SW’s are criticised for being unable to keep children safe and cutting back on essential services for our elderly, infirm and disabled, please don’t criticise someone else for eating breakfast, probably eaten at the desk whilst working. You should be bigger than than after all your many years “in this game” Really!!

  4. Nadine October 11, 2016 at 2:05 am #

    You’re doing a great job. Keep focused and always self care. Without that you can’t care for those clients you are serving. God bless you!

  5. Katie October 11, 2016 at 8:05 pm #

    A thoughtful piece offering a snap shot of practice. These will not have been the only situations the worker was dealing with that week, nor will they have been the only cases on the worker’s caseload. The constant need to balance competing priorities and deliver high quality services at the time they are needed is an everyday practice reality for the social workers I have worked with.