BASW launches campaign to ‘reverse’ social workers’ admin-dominated schedules

New 80-20 campaign aims to get practitioners’ working lives 'back to what works best'

Photo: Blend images/Rex/Shutterstock

A new initiative by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is aiming to improve social workers’ circumstances by rebalancing their paperwork-dominated working lives.

The 80-20 campaign bids to ‘reverse’ the working situation that many practitioners face, in which close to 80% of their time is spent on admin tasks rather than working directly with families.

A survey of 350 BASW members showed that social workers spent 29 hours on a computer or doing paperwork in an average 45-hour working week. A third also said they spent no time during an average week on reflective practice.

One respondent told BASW they felt their work life – including supervisions – was “totally skewed” towards admin, while a team manager described the shortage of time for direct work as “the most common frustration” among their staff.

Burnout levels

The new data follows a recent academic study by Shereen Hussein, a research professor at King’s College London, which highlighted the “large impact” admin pressures have on levels of burnout among social workers.

It revealed that less than 25% of children’s social workers felt they undertook “the right level” of direct work with service users, compared with 40% of those working in adult services. Practitioners, especially in children’s services, were left emotionally exhausted and with strong feelings of depersonalisation.

A statement by BASW acknowledged that improving the current situation would take a lot more than “clicking our fingers”.

The organisation said it would be advocating for efficient and reliable IT systems that eliminate or minimise the amount of task duplication social workers face.

It also argued for the provision of ‘team administrators’ to support social workers, and for a change in managerial cultures away from excessive focus on performance indicators and targets.

“This is not a case of remodelling social work but getting back to what works best,” the statement said.

‘We need to listen’

BASW acknowledged the aggravating effect austerity had caused, both in terms of admin staff cutbacks and on the wellbeing of people social workers support, and pledged to continue lobbying against cuts.

“The term ‘relationship-based social work’ is not an add on – it is fundamentally about building relationships and that takes time, investment and commitment,” said Maris Stratulis, BASW England manager, who is leading the 80-20 initiative. “More direct contact is what children are telling us they need, and we need to listen to what they are telling us.”

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said: “Children themselves say stability is the most important aspect of their experience of care. That’s why I think the 80-20 campaign is an important opportunity to look at the impact of the direct time social workers spend with children and families, and at how we can improve the experiences of children in care.”

Huge workloads

Gill Archer, national officer at Unison, said BASW’s survey underscored the fact that social workers need “all the support they can get at”.

“Unison research shows half of social workers finish their day with concerns about their cases – mostly due to being unable to get the necessary paperwork completed,” she added, alluding to research findings by the union in association with Community Care.

“Staff shortages and budget cuts mean social workers are struggling with huge workloads. Government action is needed to ease this burden, so vulnerable children and adults get the support they so desperately need.”

8 Responses to BASW launches campaign to ‘reverse’ social workers’ admin-dominated schedules

  1. Carol May 29, 2018 at 9:32 pm #

    You can campaign all you want. Heard it all before and been a social worker for a long time. Nothing, nada is going to change. Thanks for trying though, and my glass is always half full.

    • Dobby May 30, 2018 at 9:31 pm #

      Carol i love how positive you aren’t – loving your work. Keep going BASW I feel Change in the air

    • Sue G May 30, 2018 at 10:38 pm #

      My social work role begins when I leave the office not walk in it but nobody listens to what we want. It’s all about targets , being in front of a computer doesn’t safe guard children and something needs to happen before the profession that I love collapses .

  2. SB May 30, 2018 at 2:43 pm #

    Well said Carol and so true. Yes BASW does an excellent job but the organisations wont want to make changes, partly because it means they have to admit that they have made serious errors that have impacted ultimately on client and staff wellbeing.

  3. Dr Steve Rogowski May 30, 2018 at 8:24 pm #

    Great and about time!

  4. Overseas May 30, 2018 at 11:12 pm #

    It saddens me this defeatest attitude.

    I’m extremely for this and hope it starts to cause the so desperately needed changes for both professionals and service users.

    Sometimes I feel that there’s some identification by practitioners in a perpetually victim mode.

    I’ve always said that the best way to protest is to do our contractual hours and put the pressure back up. And please don’t bring be that rhetoric about bullying stuff. Stand up for yourselves and use the laws.

  5. John May 31, 2018 at 10:13 am #

    I echo above, my frustration with the majority of paperwork being how does it improve the lives of anyone we work with. The vast majority of it around micro managing, and leads into the blame culture we are in. Are we saying individuals supported by Social Services before computers were at more risk or disadvantaged because there was not endless forms.

    We employ people into Social Work roles with the skills primarily of supporting families / individuals yet the main role of their job is administration which can be evidenced time and time again.

  6. sw111 June 1, 2018 at 9:35 am #

    Unfortunately that is what social care has been reduced to – paper (IT) exercise to prove that task has been completed and that covers them. Recording exercise becomes the main focus to evidence what has been done and sometimes these are exaggerated account which the service user/client would dispute, claiming that the worker did not say what is logged or did not say the way it is logged.
    This is social care has become mechanical and defensive. Risk averse promotes practise that is defensive and key factor is how to cover yourself.

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