Why my ASYE made me quit social work after eight months

A former participant speaks about her experience of being a newly qualified social worker

Stressed social worker
Photo: Burger/Phanie/Rex/Shutterstock

By Jane Brown

Having spent three years studying to become a social worker, it was a tough decision to quit the sector after just eight months. But after a nightmarish ASYE experience left me low on confidence and suffering with anxiety, I felt like I had no other choice.

The problems were there from the outset. Despite a positive introductory talk with my coordinator, who explained the programme and gave me the necessary documents, not one member of the team actually told me what adult social care was, nor did they describe to me what services we provided.

Considering I was new to statutory – I’d only ever worked in non-statutory settings before – it would’ve helped if someone had sat me down and really explained how social work functioned within a local authority. Instead, I was left to occupy myself at my desk while the rest of my colleagues got on with their work.

Now, you may be thinking it’s quite usual for the newbie to feel a little bit lost during the first couple of weeks, maybe even expected? But this was just the start of my problems…

Spiralling caseload

Not having a protected caseload was arguably the biggest cause of my unhappiness during my ASYE. When I first joined the local authority, I had a caseload of about five or six, but that quickly rocketed to 26 cases over a period of three months.

At this point, I still felt very new because no one had really talked me through the processes in any great detail. This made the job very hard to do and, it sounds awful, but I felt like I was winging it some of the time. Given that I was doing a job that affected people’s lives, I thought this was quite worrying. But how could I support service users if I wasn’t being supported myself?

One week, I was dealing with some very complex cases and had to ask my manager for help. I said I was fine dealing with these cases as long as I had some support – just to ensure that I was getting it right. But did I get an ounce of guidance? No.

This process of requesting help and not hearing back from my supervisor, who was also my manager, became a regular pattern. Throughout my time at the council, I think I got supervision maybe three times and, even then, they were all at my request.

On the one hand, I had a degree of sympathy for my manager because, along with the rest of the team, it was very, very busy; some had caseloads of up to 50! So, it was hard for them to make time for me.

But I was new and in desperate need of supervision, not only for my personal development but for the benefit of my service users.

I didn’t feel very well supported during my ASYE at all.

Lack of supervision

The most common answer when I asked for help would be ‘oh, we’ll do it next week’ or ‘ask me again tomorrow’. This was until one day – close to tears – I said that I really needed support.

On that occasion, my manager did listen to me and we spoke for an hour or two. But even then, we talked mainly about my caseload, rather than my development or my progress with the ASYE.

To add insult to injury, my manger started venting about another social worker in the department during our meeting. It wasn’t really the most professional supervision I’ve ever had.

Not having a protected caseload meant that I struggled to complete my ASYE documents in what became a toxic combination of exhaustion and worry.

If I remember rightly, we were given something like two hours a week of protected development to focus on our ASYE tasks. Each week I would schedule for this in my diary to ensure that I was on track. Yet, that slot always got filled because something else would come up and I would have to deal with it instead.

I did consider doing ASYE work at home, but I was already working late and taking my laptop home on a regular basis anyway. I decided that work had already taken up enough of my time at the weekends, so I decided to leave the bulk of it for the office.

Again, I told my supervisor that I was having difficulty, unable to find the time to complete my work, but I was told that I needed to “prioritise”.

No structure

In my opinion, I was offered very little advice on how to complete the tasks and do them well; there was near to no guidance from my supervisor. On top of this, I don’t think there was much drive from the council, I felt like it was just a box they needed to tick. There appeared to be no structure to it at all.

When I first started, I thought the ASYE was good because it was about protecting and developing newly qualified social workers after university. But after a short while, I asked myself, “what is this actually developing?” I couldn’t see the purpose of it.

With an increasing caseload and struggling to complete my ASYE documents, I became very stressed and anxious about going into work. Despite making my supervisor aware of my deteriorating situation, no support was offered and the only way I felt I could relieve the pressure was to go sick.

This wasn’t an easy decision, but I felt like I had no other option. I thought that I couldn’t do the job anymore, the way I was feeling at that moment.

When I phoned in to say that I was taking sick leave my manager wasn’t very understanding and it made me feel ten times worse. It almost felt like, because I was a social worker, I couldn’t suffer from anxiety. There was very little understanding or compassion.

At that moment, I felt like I didn’t want to be a social worker anymore. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

No other option

Despite feeling very anxious, I did return to work. But to my surprise, the AYSE was one of the first things that my supervisor mentioned – I was amazed! Considering I hadn’t just returned from something like the flu, I was shocked that no return to work interview had been arranged.

Shortly after this, I quit the social care sector.

It made me really sad because I felt that if I had just received a bit more support before I went off sick I wouldn’t have gone off. If it was just managed and someone had sat down with me and looked through my cases, things could have been different.

It wasn’t an easy decision to quit social care, but the job was affecting my wellbeing and my confidence was shot. I had no other option.

People often ask me, “why didn’t you try your luck at another authority?” The truth is, I did consider joining another council, but I decided against it as I knew I’d still have to complete the ASYE programme. And, what was to say that I wouldn’t come up against the same problems somewhere else?

If only…

Looking back at my time on the ASYE programme, I would say that a protected caseload to take pressure off candidates would be good. This is because it would actually give them the time to complete their work and organise supervision.

If I had a protected caseload of about 15-20, it would have been much more manageable.

I would also suggest that the role of an ASYE supervisor and manager should be separate. Sadly, I feel like my supervision sessions revolved mainly around my caseload rather than my development as a social worker.

I’m fortunate that I have found employment in another line of work, but it’s just a terrible shame that this sector, one which desperately needs an influx of new members, has lost another worker.

42 Responses to Why my ASYE made me quit social work after eight months

  1. Josey June 13, 2018 at 2:32 pm #

    Jane,
    I am really sorry that you had such a unpleasant experience at your Local Authority and I believe you did the right thing to leave when you did. Don’t give up because there are some decent LA’s out there who do offer support to newly qualified SW. I have completed my ASYE recently and was supported through the process with a protected case load. I think you have two years to complete the ASYE so after you have recovered from your ordeal and feel stronger. Why not give it a try next year somewhere else if you have not been put off all together. All the best

  2. Mark Fraser June 13, 2018 at 2:53 pm #

    That’s such a shame you had that experience Jane. Glad that you’ve found new work but if the thought ever occurs that you might return to social work please believe that there are some excellent statutory teams and some brilliant and supportive managers and supervisors out there. The sector does indeed need new and engaged social workers and it’s such a loss when people leave in this way. Best wishes for the future, Mark

  3. Nichola June 13, 2018 at 4:13 pm #

    That sounds like the norm, however, you need to learn to make it very clear you need help, be precise not assume others will know exactly what help you need. If you asked specific questions the teams are willing to help, we have all been there. It is tough but it prepares you for the real world.

    • Annonymous June 14, 2018 at 7:48 am #

      I’m not sure her experiences will prepare her for the ‘real world’ as you put it. I think it just serves to reinforce that as an ASYE, she wasn’t supported well enough, and by the sounds of it, neither are the team she worked on. She shouldn’t need to assume people know learning needs she has. A good supervisor would have helped her to plan what support she needs and how to aquire any knowledge. I’m interested to find out which LA this is. It sounds like those teams need help.

      • Winifred June 14, 2018 at 5:44 pm #

        It is a shame that you’ve left the profession. I am a practice educator and I would agree that the this role needs to be separated from my role as a Team Manager so as to provide me the opportunity to undertake the role of a PE more appropriately. I have declined to take a student this year due to not having the time to prioritise this.

  4. Andy Faulkner June 13, 2018 at 4:31 pm #

    This exactly echoes an article I wrote for Community Care two years ago! (https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2016/08/23/quit-social-workafter-four-months/)
    You have my complete sympathy, to study so hard to attain a career foothold only to be forced to choose between your mental/physical health or struggle on with no managerial support is a nightmare! At the end of the day I, like you, realised that the job wasn’t worth my health nor was it benefiting the young people I was entrusted to support.
    It’s so sad that years later local authorities are STILL refusing to honour the spirit of the ASYE program and ASSIST and SUPPORT their newly qualified staff. They obviously work under the premise that there will always be “newbies” to exploit every year. It’s a shame that they can’t be bothered to give genuine support to their new staff because it would pay them dividends in retention in later years!

    • Katie June 14, 2018 at 12:00 am #

      Assessed and supported. 😀

  5. Tracy June 13, 2018 at 5:04 pm #

    Sad that I’ve seen this so many times and quit after 9 months of returning to practice after some time away for pretty much the the same reasons. There needs to be a major overhaul of the system.

  6. Tina June 13, 2018 at 5:41 pm #

    I’m myself a supervisor of 2 NQAW. I feel above is an example of a really badly run ASYE. However, I’m sad to see that the SW chose this option and also that this in my opinion ‘over the top’ reaction is finding a forum in Community Care.

    • Elaine June 13, 2018 at 8:42 pm #

      I’m sorry, what’s “over the top” – her decision to quit? I hope that’s not what you mean.

    • Dan June 13, 2018 at 10:10 pm #

      Completely disagree. I feel this is the perfect forum to share these clearly distressing experiences.

      To label it over the top completely and unnecessarily minimises her account.

      Best wishes to her in her future career.

    • Sian June 14, 2018 at 7:42 am #

      I am a AYSE super visor and we do all the right things it’s pressure on us too. While I sympathise part of AYSE role should be finding out how LA work not being told. I am also a practice teacher and I had hoped we had moved away from people leaving the profession in the first year.

    • Annonymous June 14, 2018 at 7:50 am #

      I think she is just highlighting that the support that should be there isn’t. Community care is probably the best forum to help others avoid such situations.

    • brunchbar73 June 14, 2018 at 9:53 am #

      I disagree with you. I remember as a NQSW I was assigned a mentor on the team who I could approach adhoc to discuss any issues that arose as the TM clearly realised they would be too busy to take on this role.The support from this mentor proved invaluable. Why was this simple step not taken for this NQ SW? common sense lacking!

    • Lalaland June 14, 2018 at 2:34 pm #

      Tina,

      I found your reply patronising and demeaning, as who are you to devalue somebody else”s lived work experience. What would your staff say about you, and I wonder how experienced you are, as the accepted SW view for the majority in this country is it’s not addressing the problem for most clients or their SW.

  7. Amigo June 13, 2018 at 6:01 pm #

    Doesn’t surprise me, the professions shot on a number of levels. Lack of any respect by wider society, years of austerity cuts, toxic culture of LAs only interested in tick box IT systems, and SW training that accepts and passes anyone and pursues a PC political agenda.

    After nearly 30 years in the golden age of SW thank God I’m out of it.

  8. Z.Tubbs June 13, 2018 at 6:20 pm #

    I am in exactly the same position but I’m in Child protection and I’m finding managerment are not supportive. I know social workers who have come into LAs after 2 yrs of qualifying and are not offered ASYE so if you don’t ever do it does that mean LAs won’t employ you? No they will take you on if you haven’t got ASYE.

    I’m sure the gov will scrap ASYE completely in a few years and it will be useless. There is no protected caseload, you have to take what your given. I’m constantly told this is the way social work is but is it? This is just a culture imposed on us by managers/councils/agencies/government. We need to stand up and say enough is enough.

  9. Jane Francis June 13, 2018 at 7:14 pm #

    It’s very difficult to know exactly what help you need. Having said that It sounds like she did have a clear idea of what she needed as she said here but supervision sounded lacking to say the least! Yet another talent lost! Hope she may give it another chance somewhere else but don’t blame her if not. Approval board don’t make it easy to return either!

  10. Daniella June 13, 2018 at 7:40 pm #

    It is so weird that I have read this. I am currently 9 months into my ASYE in children and family services and I am already thinking what different area of work can I go into. The structure, support and guidance is poor and I am debating whether it is worth finishing my ASYE.

  11. Lucy June 13, 2018 at 8:08 pm #

    I really enjoyed reading this article; as I for very sorry for the young one’s entering the social work field, and those who have re-trained, and are crossing over in this field, as I would not want to be them. I am a frontline CP SW with 20 years experience (local & abroad), and I have only lasted the distance as I was very young (24) and could put up with more than what I could now; and I also very supportive and experienced managers. There is no way I could survive now entering the field at my age (44), as there has been an increase in violence and difficult clients (with the increase in social &n financial problems) and an overall decrease in support from management/the workplace.

    The AYSE in the article should not feel she has failed in anyway; the system has failed her, and it is a major loss to social care employers, considering the huge shortfall of SW’s in this Country.
    However, she does not know how lucky she is, and this will actually turn out to be a blessing, and what will be for the best in the long run. She avoided a lot of un-necessary stress, anxiety, job dissatisfaction, long working hours, and not having to step into toxic and unsafe working environments. She is young enough to get on with her life and to retrain or get another job; and she should be congratulated on her job outside of social work. She has saved herself a lot of future heartache, loneliness, and isolation, and can have her evenings and weekends back; in other words she can have a normal life!

    She should consider she had a lucky escape as getting out of Social Care, is like escaping from a religious cult; it take’s over your whole life, and it’s very hard to get out of and escape.

    • Jessica June 14, 2018 at 9:57 am #

      Thanks for offering this perspective, I am sure it will be comforting for many people to read. This is the thinking and the culture we need to move towards in social work. We need to stop accepting that it’s normal for the work to completely take over our lives, to wreck our health and sleep and sanlty and impact on our relationships. If we truly want wellbeing and good outcomes for the clients we work with, we have to start by believing that we also deserve that! And if it means that we must leave the sector and find other ways to channel our social justice work, then so be it.

    • Local Authority SW June 14, 2018 at 8:36 pm #

      Having been a CP social worker and AP for over 20 years I completely agree with Lucy. I always liken ithe to being in an abusive relationship. A process entering into it and a process to end it.

  12. Mar June 13, 2018 at 8:31 pm #

    This is such a shame that the sector is so pressurised and that professionals like you get lost in all this lack of resources.

    I struggle to understand why I haven’t got my first appointment to do my ASYE as a newly qualified social worker 3 months on. But now I get it, services don’t have the structure to support new social workers. Far and few between newly qualified social worker positions due to lack of resources.

  13. Dan June 13, 2018 at 8:32 pm #

    This sounds like an awful experience. It sounds like you made the right choice to find a new job, but perhaps a bit to late. It’s hard to shake this kind of experience, but there really are better places to work as a statutory social worker. I think lots of people only complete the social work degree to become a statutory social worker, but this shouldn’t be the case, social work is much wider than this. The course just gives you the tools for the job, but it’s up to you where you choose to use them. Caseload numbers are always hard to determine in adults social work, someone could have 15 cases and others could have 30 and it not be enough. I’m pretty sure that 50 is too many regardless.

  14. Sue June 13, 2018 at 8:38 pm #

    That is really sad to hear. Sounds like a very poor set-up. I’m the facilitator for our Local Authority and I can confirm it runs nothing like your dreadful experience. We nurture our ASYE candidate’s and they all say it was a helpful and worthwhile experience. They are all mentored by PE IIs who are good at supporting the learning needs of newbies. It sets them up for a deeper understanding and further CPD. Is there another L.A. or getting local to you ok could try as an alternative?

  15. rachel June 13, 2018 at 8:56 pm #

    How sad to read. As a manager in an adults team I am reading this with horror and sadness. I hope you are aware that it’s not like this everywhere and hopefully you will feel able to pursue this career again at a later date. I love my job and hope that the students and ASYE staff have a positive experience when placed within our department . I wish you well in whichever career you pursue.

  16. Josh Devlin June 13, 2018 at 9:54 pm #

    A few points –
    Firstly: This article is pretty sensationalist and isn’t helping the sector without any broader context – yet again CC should take a look at their editorial policy. I am currently 6 months into my ASYE and though aspects aren’t well organised I am generally supported. Let’s tell some more positive stories.

    Secondly: I have real sympathy for the author as it seems like a really testing experience. I would echo what others have said however about taking responsibility for getting your development needs met. Some things I would suggest to others in a similar position (you may have done these) would be to contact the LA’s learning and development officer or your manager’s manager.

    Thirdly: to me this highlights the need for SW qualifying programmes to have at least one stat placement. It worries me to hear the author was unsure what adult social care actually was upon starting the job. However, I accept this is easier said than done.

    • Dan June 14, 2018 at 8:21 pm #

      I disagree with your first point. Ive read hundreds of positive stories on cc website. I was startled to read this one, thats why it stood out as being different.

  17. Sarah June 13, 2018 at 10:08 pm #

    Tina, what are you saying is an “over the top reaction”?

  18. Blair McPherson June 14, 2018 at 7:28 am #

    Surprise you chose Field social work in an LA setting if you had no experience or knowledge of what it is about. Never the less no excuse for poor induction and inadequate supervision.

  19. Annie June 14, 2018 at 9:19 am #

    This experience isn’t about the ASYE programme for me it is about the organisation. It is very sad to hear that this was the NQSW experience, and also sad that this is not an isolated incident. I suspect there was a frustrated ASYE coordinator trying to support her too. It is symptomatic of the current political climate and policy in relation to public sector funding. The approach I take to discussing this with NQSW is to consider what in their control, and what is not. There is an inevitability about some of the experience of statutory social work and the opportunities and challenges it presents. The ASYE gives them an opportunity to experience this and work out how they fit in this environment- its not for everyone and I think it is brave for someone to decide this. It is certainly not for us to judge what must have been an extremely difficult decision. If only we could look at things a bit more widely- how much extra time has the manager needed to spend to manage the recruitment process/ cost of locum cover for this post etc by not spending more time with the NQSW.

    On another note- she says no one sat down and told her what statutory social work was- not putting aside the further short sightedness of experienced statutory social workers and organisations in not investing time in developing the profession and the quality of their future colleagues and employees- surely this is something that the universities should be facilitated as part of their learning offer for all students?

  20. Suzanne June 14, 2018 at 9:51 am #

    I am a PE and feel that Jane has had a negative experience. The LA should have a ASYE programme and coordinator. ASYE is aimed to support Nqsw however they are also reasonable for their own learning and if they are not receiving the support should feel confident to contact someone who can help them. Social work is demanding and challenging but incredibly rewarding. I feel sad for jane and would urge her to approach sw again maybe with a clear development plan and a louder voice..it will truly be worth it good luck

  21. Daacy June 14, 2018 at 9:55 am #

    Tina you are way off with “an over the top reaction”. This is Jane’s personal account of her experience and I believe her. I agree 100% with Lucy’s post and wish Jane good luck in her new job.

  22. Nick June 14, 2018 at 11:06 am #

    This is a really negative experience for the author and it’s a great shame that it has put her off a career in statutory social work. Its sounds like a chaotically run service in which all staff are poorly supported or given unreasonably high caseloads so it’s unsurprising that her experience was the same. A couple of things that stood out for me though, why did she go in to a statutory adults team with no knowledge of what they could provide or how to do the job? I realise that not all students have the benefit of a statutory placement but voluntary sector placements do usually still involve interaction with statutory services and this should have been identified as a learning need during her training. It doesn’t reflect well upon her training institution either, that they are training social workers who don’t know what statutory social work involves by the end of their training. As for knowledge of available services, a one or two week induction, involving shadowing other workers, visiting services and other teams etc would have provided a good start and the opportunity to ask lots of questions to find out. In every new job I’ve had, even when i was joining a department as an experienced social worker, this has been considered essential and has been provided. If no such induction was provided to this social worker, then this was another failing in her support.

  23. Marcy June 14, 2018 at 12:30 pm #

    I have been a SW for 17yrs primarily CP then Early Intervention then back to CP. I currently find myself in this nightmarish hell where you are afforded no purposeful direction/ guidance or support. In my current CP role I was offered no support having left Early Intervention to return to Statutory. I have had 4 managers in 6 months and 2 supervision in the same period. I am inundated with cases that were previously mismanaged resulting in both the young people and their families being suspious of your motives and consequently resistant to support. To add, I am often getting home between 7-7.30pm by which time I feel physically and emotionally exhausted. My own children receive 5% of the 10% I have left as I continue to work into the evening trying to keep abreast of the endless paperwork!

    • Su June 14, 2018 at 7:35 pm #

      Marcy,

      It’s not worth it. Why did you leave Early Intervention, can you go back? Welcome to the ‘not so wonderful’ world of statutory CP; it’s a broken system propped up by SW doing endless un-paid hours. You and your children deserve better…..

  24. Ella June 14, 2018 at 5:39 pm #

    It is a terrible shame you went through such a tough time at the beginning of a career you have wished for. I must say I am currently an ASYE; about 9 months old. The beginning was difficult, at least first two to three months. That changed very positively and i a so confident in my role and getting the right support, which is the magic in the job really.
    I am had you gr8 yourself a job and that you are able to vent through this article.
    Good luck for the future.

  25. frank cliffe June 15, 2018 at 11:00 am #

    There can be no other country that operates a social care system that it would seem deliberately sets out to fail good people both in the profession and the community.

  26. Philip Bannister June 18, 2018 at 8:11 am #

    I am now retired as a SW, senior manager, independent, senior education manager and ran three Ltd companies. Local Authority support is hit and miss, the pressures are so great that people are lost to the system , and that’s just the employees never mind service users, clients or customers. Investment ( Money. Values and Knowledge). is the only way forward, a clear joined up national policy framework for health , remove social work from LA control, a thee tier , private , regional and. National agency structure for families. Divided into three lifecycles ie children 1to 25 , family and individual adult care ,25 – 65and later life care 65 – to end of life . Coterminous with health / Police / Mental well being / education clusters where appropriate based in community (schools) and virtual locations library/healthport. Remove barriers and stop Teflon tabling social care fro one agency to another . And finally remove the management herachy and put in place professional tiers for delivery andmangment for administration and back office functions . All to be in my book (2019 ) “whose care is it “. My mindfulness and life coaching practice is about empowering from the individual .

  27. Jaden June 18, 2018 at 12:18 pm #

    That’s awful! I wonder if you tried to use the approach of informal supervision not only from your line manager/educator but from colleagues. This worked for me, not that I had a similar experience, but I was able to receive additional support as and when I needed it.
    Also it was mentioned in one of the responses above about asking direct questions to specific areas you require support. Am assuming here that your strategy was to discuss cases in totality but this is hard because you can only do this in scheduled supervision.
    Am glad you found somewhere different. Social Work is a challenging profession but the difference we make in our clients lives is rewarding enough. At least to me.

  28. Waqas June 18, 2018 at 7:04 pm #

    Reading some of these comments it’s no wonder that the social work profession is not taken seriously and it’s evident why failings do exsist within it. Many of you have judged this individual and believe that this reaction is ‘over the top’ wouldn’t it be better to show empathy and sympathy? This is fundamental within social work practice itself, just goes to show what kind of social workers are out there and it seems that this individual had a lucky escape from the profession, I weep for its current positioning.

  29. Felix Ogundeyin June 30, 2018 at 1:08 pm #

    I am really saddened by your experience and shocked by some of the comments that have been left.
    I was at a conference on 29/06/18 and an NQSW cited having had similar experiences during her ASYE.
    This is very worrying trend and our strategic leads / those involved in workforce planning have to give these matters a really close look…How can we attract and retain new social workers if we cannot guarantee a safe space for professional development?
    As a Social Work Manager and ASYE assessor I do hope I’m playing a part in creating safe working environments…
    To any other disheartened NQSW’s currently on the ASYE, speak up or look for somewhere else to work if you don’t feel suported, but please don’t give up! Social Work is a caring profession and out there is service that DOES care about your development