‘Health check’ of social worker wellbeing to undergo revamp to boost evidence base

What Works-backed project aims to standardise wellbeing tool for social workers, as adults' social work strand shows rise in stress-related absence

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The social work ‘health check’ to gauge social worker wellbeing is to be revamped to improve its evidence base and remove variations in the way it is carried out.

Children’s and adults’ principal social workers (PSWs) are being invited to help with the project to develop a standardised way of doing the check, which is an annual workforce sounding board completed by local authorities and other employers.

The work is being conducted by What Works for Children’s Social Care (formerly the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care) in conjunction with the Local Government Association (LGA), Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and Principal Children and Families Social Worker Network.

A What Works spokesperson said that despite clear guidance from the LGA, there was no standardised way of running the health check.

“Different employers collate it in a range of ways, with a balance between surveying social workers for their actual experience, and measuring things like staff turnover and workloads,” the spokesperson said.

The new project is meant to produce a national template that PSWs can use to evaluate how happy and healthy social work workforces are, as well as analytics via which findings can be presented to senior leaders.

‘Wellbeing is a key strategic priority’

Islington council children’s PSW Stephen Rice, who is leading the work to reshape the health check, described the gauge as vital in terms of his peers upholding their ‘voice for practice’ responsibilities within senior leadership teams.

He told Community Care that while the LGA guidance was clear and helpful, there had been “huge progress” in understanding workplace wellbeing since it was written.

“This project will really help PSWs present and argue for social worker wellbeing as a key strategic priority for their senior leadership teams,” Rice added.

“I’m really excited at the great response this project has had from the PSW network – I guess I’m not the only one who wants a more user-friendly way of running the health check and analysing the findings.”

‘Co-production’ sessions will take place at Doncaster children’s trust’s headquarters on 29 July and at SCIE’s London offices on 5 Aug, with both sessions running from 11am to 3pm and further details available by emailing Rice.

Stress-related leave rises among adults’ social workers

This week also saw the publication of the latest adults’ social work health check results, which were provided by 89 councils’ PSWs, up from 81 the previous year. The rise was mostly accounted for by an improved response rate from shire counties, from 12 to 18.

The report recorded a rise in sick leave of more than a fortnight due to stress – up to 3% from 1% in last year’s survey – from its larger respondent pool.

Social worker vacancy rates also grew, from 11% to 13%, though this figure was primarily driven by figures from London boroughs where labour markets are often particularly fluid.

Average caseloads for social workers in respondent councils fell slightly from 24 to 22, with most practitioners working four hours above their contracted quota each week.

Asked about achievements over the past 12 months, most PSWs (63%) mentioned putting in place new practices and policies, with a similar proportion (61%) citing new staff development programmes, and 39% staff changes, including recruitment and retention procedures.

Training and development was also most commonly mentioned by respondents (56%) as a key area for improvement, followed by practices and policies (52%) and quality assurance (35%).

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