‘I simply can’t go on trying to give my best and not achieving what I need’

David Jones writes about the pressures facing social workers trying to meet children in residential homes, and how this impacts children

woman at work
Photo: Andrey Popov/Fotolia

by David Jones

Sally has been a social worker for 23 years but is now seriously considering quitting a job she once loved.

“The workload simply doesn’t allow me the time to engage with children and young people in a meaningful way,” she explains. “And this means forming relationships with some very vulnerable kids is quite frankly impossible.”

This situation has become even more acute, she feels, when working with youngsters in children’s homes.

Under ‘The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations’ of 2010, the statutory requirement is that a child’s social worker should visit them once during their first week in care, every six weeks for the first year and then every three months if the placement lasts until the young person is 18. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.

“It was embarrassing and distressing,” says Sally. “I sensed that the attitude of some of the staff was, ‘oh, she’s bothered to turn up,’ while the young person wouldn’t feel inclined to talk to me. I was hardly a familiar face and I understood both reactions.”


It’s a state of affairs that I can attest to during my 11 years as a residential child care worker. Anthony was a teenager I worked with for six years, during which time he had been assigned four social workers.

He had started to develop a good rapport with two of them, only for them to suddenly disappear from his life, both moving to other jobs at short notice.

I remember Anthony’s disappointment at having yet again to be introduced to a new worker who knew little about his upbringing, or the problems he was experiencing with other young people in the home.

Both before and after I became his key worker, I would have to attend his review meetings when the social worker who should have been present informed the home that they couldn’t be there, or simply didn’t turn up. In time, Anthony became increasingly cynical and resentful, and who could blame him?

Another lad I worked with was 14-year-old Joe. He had grown up in a chaotic household and also been the victim of physical and sexual abuse. Given everything he had experienced, Joe was a personable presence in the home and blessed with a winning sense of humour.

However, after about six months his behaviour started to become a cause for concern. Fiercely loyal to his family, he would spend long periods away from the home with them, and efforts by staff to locate him were constantly thwarted by family members.

‘I’ve not seen her for ages’

I had met Joe’s social worker on two occasions at the home and he would remark to me how much he liked her. He sometimes asked me why she didn’t visit him more often, adding: “I’ve not seen her for ages.” I tried to explain that she needs to see many young people, but promised him I’d phone her to ask when she would next be seeing him.

Joe had been with us for nearly a year, and when I checked his file it confirmed that the social worker hadn’t had any contact with him for four months. She informed me during the call that she was trying to manage a considerable workload, and since no member of staff had reported any negative behaviour, she assumed Joe was doing well. When I updated her regarding Joe’s absences from the home, she arranged to see him in three weeks.

Before that meeting took place, however, Joe’s behaviour started to spiral out of control.

The police returned him to us twice after he was cautioned for being verbally abusive and physically threatening to a shopkeeper. His social worker was now in regular phone contact with staff and clearly very worried. She confirmed that she would be coming to see him as soon as possible.

Matters worsened when three days later, Joe was involved in a street robbery and arrested by the police. He spent the night in the cells and was returned to the home the next day. His social worker was waiting for him with me, but he refused to talk to either of us.

Duty of care

When Joe appeared in court, the judge informed the social worker in no uncertain terms that she had abdicated her duty of care to him and that her practice had proved unacceptable. Distraught, she immediately took long-term sick leave, meaning another social worker would need to be assigned to Joe.

The home in which I work has received ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ ratings from Ofsted, but staff do despair of a system that too often lets our young people down when it comes to their statutory rights. It’s hardly surprising that some kids don’t feel valued.

A month after Sally had opened up to me about how low she was feeling, she contacted me again. After much consideration, she’d decided that she had to resign.

“My mental health is suffering and I feel wiped out with it all,” she explained. “I simply can’t go on trying to give my best and not achieving what I need to with these young people. I owe it to them as I can’t keep letting them down. And in the final analysis, I owe it to myself.”

David Jones is a pseudonym. The names in this piece have been changed. He is a residential children’s home worker.

12 Responses to ‘I simply can’t go on trying to give my best and not achieving what I need’

  1. Tom J February 28, 2018 at 9:46 am #

    I guarantee that there is someone from the HCPC reading this right now thinking; ”Damn we could have sanctioned Sally had she not resigned’.

    • Sw111 February 28, 2018 at 10:53 am #

      It’s a sad state and unfortunately the management instead of being supportive try to cover their backs, are defensive and risk averse. There is systemic failure and hcpc and management are contributing to such failures and disillusionment – everything is paper based and burecratic -that has become evidence.

    • Natalie February 28, 2018 at 5:27 pm #

      Well I think HCPC should be looking at the organisation rather than the individual. You hardly see managers being held accountable for failings.

  2. Right to Roam February 28, 2018 at 3:01 pm #

    Go agency. You work hard to earn your money but it’s worth turning up for and you are free to walk or reduce your hours, take holidays and breaks whenever you feel the need. You don’t have to tolerate narcissistic managers or get involved in the office plotting, subterfuge conspiracies or having to work ridiculous hours for nothing.

    Go agency all the way. . . . .

  3. Carol February 28, 2018 at 8:22 pm #

    Been in this work for years and years. Same old stories with social work. Please take it from an old timer . Your voice falls on deaf ears. Nothing changes. And god bless agency workers. What the hell would we do without them. The permanent staff go off in the droves under stress god bless and they then commit to the users of service
    Whilst the permanent staff recuperate.

  4. Right to Roam March 1, 2018 at 10:59 am #

    Thank you for your kind words Carol.
    It’s not many who see our value, we are often met with hostility from our peers and are rarely treated well. But it’s worth it not to end-up dead for nothing

  5. Casper March 1, 2018 at 8:48 pm #

    This all happens in Adult Services as well, I had to look at what I was achieving and made the decision to leave as well, I was lucky to have many years doing a job I loved with very special people . I have to agree nothing changes for the better for frontline staff and now too often the hostility from peers is becoming a regular occurrence.
    So sad to have left but my health and happiness including that of my family comes first now. Not something I had recognised before to my shame.

  6. Social worker March 2, 2018 at 10:05 am #

    Many many people should be reading this with sadness, the HCPC, BASW, LAs whose priority is a duty of care to children and families especially LAC, those organisations, manages and the failing system are to blame here for the destruction of social work. It’s a myth to think it’s just about austerity or shortage of social workers because it’s the dreadful conditions people are being expected to practice. Myself a social worker for 26 years found the same challenges in frontline social work within a local authority which compromised the ethics and values of social work. These are echoed in the failing ofsted reports up and down the UK of organisations where a number of failures continue to effect children and their families. The facts are as a social worker a key practice requirement is to build relationships with people to promote and enable them to make positive changes or recover from trauma and achieve positive outcomes. This key principle is not in practice matched with those local authorities focus upon when providing services. This tension is crusifying social workers who as the evidence shows will leave this profession. Hence the National shortage of social workers. I too left because after telling a senior manager I did not have the time to do the expected work the response was “at your level you should have the time”, no insight into the work or the timescales and a gross lack of understanding about the emotional impact of what was expected. One aspect in my high case load, was a new case, to complete court work seeking to remove a baby from parents (this idea already set at the section 47) there was delay caused from the lacking in the organisation, I had 4 weeks to meet parents, build relationships, complete a parenting assessment, explore and assess possible family members for permenance complete court papers, and care plan and this baby was also LAC. It is a tremendous amount of work with no time at all for the children and familes we are supposed to help. I raised concerns at an Occ health meeting to no avail, and resigned on a number of principles not being met and now face the HCPC. A social worker cannot do their job if the organisation does not provide the environment and support to them, and it is a disgraceful way to treat human beings who are overworked with high caseloads in poor environments and those responsible should be held accountable.

    • Stuart March 4, 2018 at 11:11 am #

      It shouldn’t be you facing the hcpc, it should be the employer facing a constructive dismissal claim.
      Thank you very much for recounting your experience, I hope you will find someone to help & support you with the hcpc and constructive dismissal.
      With love & best wishes on behalf of everyone who knows what you’re talking about.

  7. Sw111 March 5, 2018 at 8:08 am #

    I fully relate to your experiences; the state of social care is deplorable. Management fail to offer support to their front line workers and these workers are expected to be super human – face all the challenges relating to management issues and protect the children. The management is a disgrace and they are failing the children by being dismissive of the workers requests.
    Is HCPC making them accountable. NO.
    Something needs to be done to ensure work is effective and positive outcomes are achieved.
    HCPC and Management, please reflect on your incompetence and bring changes in your perspective, approach. Duty of care to their workers and to the clients is absolutely nil.
    To blame government and austerity is distractive; they are deflecting from the main issue. The culture of the management that is bullish needs to change.

  8. sad March 6, 2018 at 10:30 pm #

    I totally endorse the above remarks. I do left because I was running myself into the ground to no avail. My manager rather than supporting made me feel small and inadequate.

  9. Blair McPherson March 7, 2018 at 3:01 pm #

    Social workers viewing young people in residential care as a low priority for visits is not a new thing. And to be fair with unmanageable case loads it is a logical response to the pressure their under not to visit unless there are problems. But of course it’s often to late at this stage to develop the type of relationship that would help. So why not invest more status in the key worker who is there day in day out and who does have or can have the type of trusting helpful relationship the social worker would like but can find the time for.

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