Four out of five social workers think their caseload isn’t manageable

A survey of children’s social workers revealed an average caseload different to the government’s estimates

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Photo: Business Images/Rex

Less than one in five children’s social workers think their current workload is manageable, a Community Care survey has revealed.

The survey of 815 case-holding children’s social workers revealed an average caseload far higher than the government’s experimental figure, how 81% of social workers thinking their current workload isn’t manageable and heard how some social workers don’t see a future for themselves in the profession if this doesn’t improve.

Overall, the median average of case-holding social workers among our 815 respondents was 25. This is seven cases higher than the caseload average published by the government in February, which was calculated by dividing the number of cases by 17,850 full-time equivalent case-holding children’s social workers at 30 September 2017. The highest council average in the government’s findings was 26, just one higher than the average found by Community Care’s survey.

Community Care asked social workers to report how many individual children they currently had on their caseload, so if they were working with a family that had three children, that would equal three cases. The survey was conducted last week between April 3 and April 9.

Unmanageable

For the 757 social workers who said they worked full time, the median average was 26, and 80% said their workload was unmanageable. Of a small number (57) who reported working part time, the average was 18, and 86% of this group said their workload was unmanageable.

Of those social workers who said their caseload was unmanageable, 16 had caseloads less than the government’s average, while 577 had caseloads higher than 20.

Maris Stratulis, England manager for the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said the results of the Community Care survey were closer to the experience of BASW members than the government’s experimental statistics.

“But we need to be careful not to simply get into a numbers game as it doesn’t tell the whole story, for example the numbers game doesn’t shed any light on complexity of cases,” Stratulis said.

She added there is evidence to show “demand is increasing without the required resource and investment to deal with it”.

Regionally, the North West had the highest median average caseload, 28, while London was the lowest at 20, and had the highest proportion of social workers saying their caseload was manageable (a third within the region’s respondents).

The lowest caseload reported by a social worker across all participants was seven, while the highest (not including independent reviewing officers) was 60 for a social worker in the South East working with children in need.

Average caseloads by region – our interactive map

Responsible

Responding to the findings, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “Social workers play a vital role in transforming the lives of some of our most disadvantaged children and we are clear that they should be properly supported in their work.

“Local authorities are responsible for making sure, through recruitment and deployment, that social workers caseloads are manageable. We are supporting them in a number of ways including the £200 million Innovation Programme, to improve support for vulnerable children and families.

“We are also spending £20 million to support local authorities where the risk of children’s services failing is highest, to make sure every child receives the same high-quality care.”

‘Stressed and worried’

In the survey, a newly qualified children’s social worker with a caseload of 27 working in a child protection team told Community Care their caseload was “totally unmanageable” and they don’t feel like they “ever give a good service”.

“I am constantly stressed and worried that I am leaving vulnerable children at risk simply because I don’t have the time and resources to do the basics to protect them.

“I’m currently in my first year and am due to complete my [assessed and supported year in employment] next month, but am very sadly unsure how much longer I will last in this profession.”

A social worker with a caseload of 27 said they were considered one of the most experienced in their team even though they only completed their ASYE the year before, while another who held 32 cases said they were “unable to complete quality work” and constantly felt “stressed, under pressure and rushed”.

5 Responses to Four out of five social workers think their caseload isn’t manageable

  1. Ms Brown April 11, 2018 at 1:42 pm #

    This is so true and no matter what you say that caseload are too high it falls on deaf ears. My health was affected to the point I was having irregular heart beats. since leaving the profession my health has improved and my Doctor has put my previous condition down to STRESS.

    It is not ok to work 50-60hrs a week and continuously worry about child being at risk. When you speak to management they only care about timescales. Something has to be done as this cannot continue Caseload have to be less for any meaningful work to ever be done.

    SOCIAL WORKER ARE HUMAN AND ARE ALSO ENTALITLED TO A WORK LIFE BALANCE TOO.

  2. David Crump April 12, 2018 at 9:24 am #

    4 out 5 ? The rest have just been too busy and stretched to be able to respond to the survey !!

    • Meh April 12, 2018 at 11:38 pm #

      What is the definition of a full case load? It doesn’t necessarily matter how many cases you have – it only takes one or two complex cases, or for something to kick off for you to fall completely behind.

  3. Kelly April 24, 2018 at 1:07 pm #

    Nothing will change for the better. Government aren’t interested neither are local authorities. Working in child protection causes unrelenting stress and anxiety. Jumping from crisis to crisis will contribute to knocking years off your life. You only get one life so protect it and get out. Your health is your wealth.

  4. Kim May 2, 2018 at 10:17 pm #

    Nothing is changing in statutory social work. Management are continuing to pressurise Social Workers who are unable to manage high caseloads. Workers are working at least double their contracted hours and are on their knees. When are Social Workers going to stand up against this. Workers are continually being threatened with being taken down capabilities or referred to the HCPC if they are unable to meet timescales. When is this going to stop!