Social workers working ‘additional hours during evenings and weekends’ in ‘inadequate’ council

Improvements are beginning but high caseloads limit time social workers are spending with children and families, inspectors say

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Photo: mnirat/Fotolia

An ‘inadequate’ council’s children’s services is starting to make improvements despite caseloads for social workers being “too high”.

Ofsted inspectors said children’s services in Buckinghamshire had begun to make improvements from a low base, but high caseloads “limits the time that social workers have available to spend working directly with children and their families”.

The service was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted for the second time in four years in January, but heard in July it would be allowed to retain its children’s services as an independent commissioner felt the cost and delays associated with setting up an alternate delivery model would slow improvements.

The latest monitoring inspection, published this week, found caseload pressures were “too great” and the volume of work was “too high for a significant number of social workers”.

“Some social workers say that this workload is difficult to manage, and that they often need to work additional hours during evenings and weekends.

“There are sudden upward spikes in workloads when social workers leave, due to the redistribution of their caseloads, adding to the pressure on remaining social workers. Overall, social workers’ caseloads are too high to enable senior managers to create the conditions for improved quality of practice that they are actively seeking to achieve.”

‘Credible’ improvement plans

Inspectors noted that services for children subject to a child in need plan had begun to improve, and senior leaders had a clear, well-informed understanding of the “significant weaknesses” in the service.

“Plans to improve practice are credible and well devised. Senior managers are strongly committed to moving forward at a realistic pace and are determined to achieve rapid and sustainable improvements in children’s circumstances and outcomes,” Ofsted found.

Social workers told inspectors of the development of a learning culture and how they felt “heard” through changes being made.

‘Widespread shortfalls’

Despite the changes, inspectors criticised “widespread shortfalls in the quality and effectiveness of intervention and support to children in need”, which was compounded by “inconsistent management oversight”.

The inspection identified “some stronger and thoughtful practice” and there were encouraging signs of development in social work practice, despite much of it being “too weak”.

“The local authority is committed to evaluating and increasing the capacity of frontline managers and social workers in order to understand what is effective and safe social work with children in need. Senior managers are in the early stages of ensuring that improved standards of assessment, planning, intervention and review are consistently applied.”

Ofsted said senior managers had just introduced a new audit model, and social workers felt able to express their views. Staff expressed “cautious optimism” to inspectors that practice was improving and the council culture was becoming “increasingly transparent”.

14 Responses to Social workers working ‘additional hours during evenings and weekends’ in ‘inadequate’ council

  1. Kim August 1, 2018 at 12:48 pm #

    Why do they think this is only happening in one Council? This is the reality for Social Workers in ALL Councils! All Social Workers work at least double their contracted hours to try and keep on top of unmanageable caseloads. The alternative is being taken down the capability route and worse still being referred to the HCPC who suspend Social Workers for not being able to manage their unmanageable caseloads! Social Work is meant to be about working with families, children and young people in a restorative way, to ensure children / young people are safe from suffering harm, yet it is in fact an exercise in written reports as this is the emphasis placed upon the work we do! Children, young people and families are not interested in written reports! This whole emphasis needs to shift! Social Workers cannot manage high caseloads effectively! Councils say that cases are capped but in reality there is no cap there is only pressure to keep up and ‘meet timescales’. Children and young people are NOT timescales! This needs to change.

    • Darcey August 2, 2018 at 2:21 pm #

      Kim I agree wholeheartedly but no one is listening and experienced social workers are opting out of the profession due to everything you have described. The job will break even the most resilient worker eventually. If I could go back in time I would not have gone into social work. Families dont come first, bureaucracy is stifling as is the oppressive working conditions and bullying managers. Why are LAs struggling to retain social workers ???

  2. O B 1 August 1, 2018 at 11:17 pm #

    ‘…high caseloads “limits the time that social workers have available to spend working directly with children and their families”.’ Well, duh!!! Why is this revelation just now hitting people? They need more social workers, and fewer bullies managing them. It really is that simple.

    • Kathy August 2, 2018 at 8:35 am #

      Could not have put it better myself!!! I have left the social Work because of bullying managers….

  3. Lucia Read August 3, 2018 at 9:02 am #

    Totally agree with ALL comments made…ALL councils have this problem. It’s so huge that if central government were to carry out a sudden audit every social worker in the country would shut down!

    Social work is being turned into a business using business concept models of hitting targets or AHT(average handling time) to deal with workloads…which equals vulnerable children and adults!
    These concepts are deadly to any customer based services where vulnerable people are involved.

    All councils (and nhs) are adopting this nonsensical method of managing creating numerous problems for social workers who are then bullied by unqualified managers! I am sick and tired of watching good social workers being ‘broken’ to point of depression.

    I was thinking of studying to become an adult social worker myself, but from where I’m sitting, the prospect seems very slim as a result of the horror stories social workers narrate and what I see working in the frontline.

    Social workers are ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t’.
    They get abuse from parents/children/vulnerable adults that they’re trying to support, and then get battered by disillussioned, unqualified managers whose only interest is to make those sickening unrealistic targets.

    Whoever came up with those unrealistic management ideas should be jailed.
    When things go right managers get the accolades (inspite of the hard work put in by social workers) but when things go wrong social workers get sacked and lose everything.

    Also, on the matter of panel making decisions, there must be a shift from this style, vulnerable people’s lives are at stake while these stupid panel meetings are holding back critical services to an already vulnerable person…then you wonder why children/adults die!

    ‘A stitched in time saves 9’.

  4. JacSue August 3, 2018 at 12:04 pm #

    Senior Managers et al are insightful and fully aware of the unrealistic demands placed on social workers. Perhaps they fear that if they stop to think about how best to nurture, grow and develop their workforce and how to implement these ideas, that the wheels might fall off? So instead they remain reactive, blaming, and demand even more from social workers; relying on the good will, passion, dedication and fear of practitioners to try and maintain the status quo!

    Fortunately Ofsted then come along and simply highlight the inadequacy of the design and the gapping flaws in the machine; exposing limited foresight, humanity and mindfulness; mostly unsupportive and arguably oppressive leadership practices; and the (historical) unrealistic expectations placed on social workers.

    Yes Eileen, hot decking is problematic but what might causes greater levels of anxiety and [un]safe uncertainty is the overwhelming To Do List – which organisationally is by design – that will encroach on evenings and weekends to ensure that the work, “Gets done!”

    The grand narrative is to fix social work and to demonstrate its competency! The new world order has already begun by engineering a new army of Frontline social work practitioners – who on paper fit the profile – although this belies the growing exodus of some amazing, insightful, mindful and responsive social work practitioners.

    I’ve been qualified for over 26 years and thank goodness I retrained as a therapist so I can see my way out of a profession which is erring towards ‘inadequate’ as it seems to point towards social workers as the problem that needs to be fixed! Parents often blame their childs’ behaviour as being the sole cause of the problem/s within the family. As we know, without appropriate interventions, these difficulties can become entrenched and unsafe for the child.

    I always offer this simplified piece of advice to the parents, and today I extend this invitation to social work reformers, senior managers et al: watch Super Nanny!!!

  5. Linda Thomason August 3, 2018 at 12:48 pm #

    I loved my job and it is the best job in the world if you get chance to do this. Administration support is vital and a desk instead of hot dekimg ….oh and somewhere to park . Linda Thomason SW now left the service with stress and ill health.

  6. A Moral August 3, 2018 at 3:52 pm #

    I work about 60 hours extra per month (early mornings, evening, and weekends) and still struggle due to the high amount of paperwork and reports required to be completed as part of court work or just simple day to day practice with children and families. In my experience it is standard practice for social workers to work extra hours or everything goes out of date and they face more pressure such as being put on “development plans”. All of these extra hours are not paid for and are never taken as TOIL.
    The idea of completing meaningful direct work with children and families seems like more of a pipe dream every day.
    When are things going to change?

  7. LS August 3, 2018 at 8:12 pm #

    It is sadly the same picture for every social worker and local authority so I absolutely agree that it is patronising that Ofsted seem to think they need to highlight this . I work for a good LA and me and my team work almost every evening and weekend just to stay a float . However I disagree with the generalised comments about management bullies and how leadership teams do not work equally as hard . As a manager I too work every evening and weekend like my SW as if they have to why shouldn’t I . I think experiences of poor management shouldn’t lead to generalised comments about leadership teams . My LA has an amazing and supportive leadership team which whilst management cannot stop demand and the expectations of the role can support , protect and manage SW case loads with them .

    • Kim August 9, 2018 at 12:09 pm #

      Dear LS – you are completely flawed in your thinking when you state “As a manager I too work every evening and weekend like my SW AS IF THEY HAVE TO WHY SHOULDN’T I”. This type of thinking is exactly why this goes on. My challenge to you as a manager is around your thinking. Why do you think that SW’s have to work every evening and weekend? This type is thinking is abhorrent and is exactly why the profession is not meeting the needs of the children and young people. Where, can you tell me, in other professions it is the case that workers HAVE TO work evenings and weekends alongside their contracted hours? Where is it in professions that workers are not able to take toil or be paid overtime for their work? Where is it that 37 hours turns into at least double every week for no more pay and no more time off? And it is the case, as has been stated here, that toil is not able to be taken and that management state that toil cannot be taken for ‘writing up’ but only if you have directly been out on a visit. My advice to all SW’s would be this…..refuse to work any more than the contracted hours you are paid to work unless you are paid overtime, or given toil back both for writing up and for the visit itself. At this point management will state you are not keeping up with your written commitments etc and at that point my advice would be to contact the Union on mass. Something has to change from this draconian thinking that SW’s ‘HAVE TO’ work evenings and weekends! Life is precious and it is vile that this thinking goes on. We are failing children, young people and their families, but we are also failing our own families too! This has to stop! And this thinking needs to be challenged at every level. And whilst SW’s are scared to say NO this will continue. It is time that SW’s stood up against this on mass. Nothing will change until we do. So LS I challenge you as a manager to stand up against this and fight back! Maybe that way the government will realise that SW as it stands currently is unmanageable and unsustainable. I have been told in the past to spend less time with families, and more time typing up! I have been told that an hour’s visit can enable an assessment to be written! How ridiculous is this! This whole system is failing and it is failing because SW’s cannot manage unmanageable caseloads and managers are not fighting back. I am sad that I ever thought that this profession would be one in which I could help families because in actual fact it is set up to do exactly the opposite because of lack of time and resources. For myself I would never spend less time with children / families but that is as my own cost and burnout. The whole system needs a rehash. We could do so much more – we could work with those who are unable currently to safely care for their children – we could look at ways to work therapeutically with parents who are often abused children in adult form – but instead we don’t. So much needs to change. The whole emphasis of SW needs to change. Life is hard sometimes and we are not judge and jury – we are SW’s who are taught in UNI to be empathetic and think outside the box – but in reality management, whether it be first line or senior, do not want us to do that at all. So, until we decide enough is enough it will continue. Sadly!

  8. Andy Tutte August 4, 2018 at 9:32 am #

    This probably happens in every council across the country. I am relitively new to CP social work and think it’s part of the job working evenings and only some weekends. Sadly the focus from above is appearing to be about performance numbers. When this happens in my view the quality of works is lost.

    • Kim August 9, 2018 at 12:19 pm #

      Andy, welcome to the profession. Can I just ask you why you think “its part of the job working evenings and only some weekends”? If we are being given back toil or paid overtime then yes – but the reality is that this is not the case. We are all working weekends and evenings because there are not enough SW’s to do the job and because caseloads are totally unmanageable. What we do then is fail children and families. Someone needs to wake up to the fact that SW is NOT about writing reports that children and families mostly cannot understand but it is about the work we undertake to safeguard children. Whilst I acknowledge that Court Reporting is different the issues I am raising here is the copious reports we have to write to meet timescales that SW is judged upon by government. If all the timescales are met then there will never be any further money poured into the service – if the timescales are not met then this raises ‘inadequacy’. Timescales are important in that children must be safeguarded but the emphasis from management is upon a tick box exercise rather than the work undertaken. SW’s are then ‘named and shamed’ in respect of those who still have written work outstanding despite the fact that timescales in respect of visits etc have all been met. Something needs to change! And quickly! Because SW’s are walking away from the profession in droves. I wish you well in your chosen career but my advice to you would be to ensure that you do not get into a situation where you work constantly and your own family suffer…….

  9. Bucks SW August 9, 2018 at 8:19 pm #

    This isn’t news to anyone within the organisation…
    Unfortunately the pressures and leading to good social workers leaving the organisation and is putting off others from joining. Plenty going off on long term sick too.
    Hoping the new senior managers can make true on the promises made.

  10. Glynis Berry August 12, 2018 at 1:26 pm #

    Not just one LA but most and its the same in adult services. .. I left LA after 22 years in December 17 to work for an independant hospuce , best decision that I could have made… It was that or leave the profession altogether!