Black children’s social workers feel more positive about their working environment and job satisfaction than colleagues, research for the government has found.
The apparently positive findings – from the third installment of the Department for Education’s longitudinal study of local authority child and family social workers – drew a sceptical response given widespread reports of racism in the workplace since George Floyd’s murder last year.
However, the report also found black social workers worked more overtime, were more likely to feel their career progression was below expectations and had lower than average job security.
The findings may also reflect factors other than race, with authors in the previous two waves of the study suggesting similar positive attitudes expressed by black social workers were linked to their increased likelihood of working for agencies.
The survey is tracking the careers of child and family social workers over five years, with 2,240 practitioners polled in the previous waves completing the latest round between September and December 2020. Almost four in five (79%) were white (76% white British), 9% black/black British, 3% Asian/Asian British, 3% of mixed ethnicity and 3% of another ethnicity.
Higher job satisfaction
It found that:
- 78% of black local authority social workers were positive about their managers, resources and working environment, compared with 69% of white British staff.
- 80% of black social workers agreed that they received regular feedback on their performance compared with 69% of white British workers. For Asian staff, the figure was 83%, though it was just 60% for those of a mixed ethnicity.
- 86% of black social workers were satisfied with the sense of achievement they got from their work, compared with 77% of all social workers polled.
- 79% of black social workers were satisfied with the opportunity they had for developing their skills in the job, compared with 68% of white British social workers and 62% of those of a mixed ethnicity.
However, 28% of Black social workers said that their career progression was below expectations, compared with 16% of white British respondents.
Black staff were also more likely than average (48% compared with 39%) to work overtime “all the time”, which researchers linked to them being more likely to work in ‘inadequate’ rated authorities and with children in need, both of which were associated with higher overtime levels.
Lower levels of job security
And only three quarters of black social workers were satisfied with their job security compared with an average of 85% for the whole sample and 87% for white British social workers.
The authors attributed this to black staff’s disproportionate representation in agency roles, with 39% employed as locums, compared with 10% of white British staff.
They also linked this factor to the finding that 18% of black social workers had said the support they received from managers had worsened during the pandemic, compared with 31% of white British social workers. Directly-employed staff were more likely to say that managerial support had declined during Covid-19 than locums.
- Black and ethnic minority social workers have disproportionately high ASYE failure rate, figures show
- Almost half of Black safeguarding professionals report lack of equal opportunity to progress at work
- Black and ethnic minority social workers disproportionately subject to fitness to practise investigations
Findings consistent with previous rounds of survey
In previous rounds of the survey, researchers had also linked more positive findings for black staff to their representation in agency roles.
In the second edition of the longitudinal study, conducted between September 2019 and January 2020, 80% of black social workers were positive about their line managers’ ability to motivate them, compared with 71% overall. And 76% of black social workers said that they received regular feedback on their performance compared with 69% on average.
“The positive ratings amongst Black social workers can be linked to the positive ratings for these attributes amongst agency workers; Black social workers were far more likely to be employed by an agency than social workers from any other ethnic background,” that report said.
The first wave of the study, conducted between November 2018 and March 2019, found 42% of black social workers felt stressed by their job compared with 51% on average, despite them reporting a higher caseload and more overtime working.
This report similarly explained the findings as potentially linked to black social workers’ greater likelihood of working in agency positions.
‘Black social workers are not satisfied’
However, Shantel Thomas, anti-racism lead at the British Association of Social Workers, said she was surprised by the third wave’s findings on the working environment.
“Everything else that we know, we’ve heard, we’ve seen, even from personal and professional experience contradict that,” she said.
“Black social workers are not satisfied with the workplace culture and career progression and a sense of belonging within local authorities. That’s what our members have been telling us. That’s what previous research and studies that have taken place have shown. It was surprising to me.”
The survey was undertaken during a period that included a second national lockdown throughout November 2020.
Thomas said it was unlikely that black social workers felt more satisfied with their jobs than white colleagues at that time, particularly considering that a higher proportion were working in frontline roles during the pandemic. Sixty eight per cent of black respondents to the survey were frontline workers, compared with 52% of white British respondents.
“During this time, since George Floyd and everything else, we have really seen the disparities at all different levels,” said Thomas.
“People contracting Covid-19 and more black people dying and being severely affected and still it was more black social workers putting themselves out there on the front line and putting themselves at further risk. How can you get from that to everyone’s happy?”
Lack of opportunities to progress
One finding that did correlate with other research was that a higher proportion of black respondents said their career progression was below expectations.
An online survey by black safeguarding professionals’ network Kijiji last year found that almost half of respondents felt they lacked fair and equal opportunities to progress in the workplace.
Analysis published last year by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services found that 2% of directors identified as black, despite 12% of children’s social workers in England overall being black.
Skills for Care figures for 2018-19 found black and ethnic minority children’s social workers faced disproportionately high rates of failure in the assessed and supported year in employment.
Ahmina Akhtar, head of equality, diversity and inclusion at Social Work England, said more had to be done to create opportunities for black social workers to progress in their careers.
“It was positive to see that black social workers largely felt they had access to the right resources to do their job, but unsurprising to see that they expressed lower expectations in terms of career progression,” she said.
“We know from our engagement with the sector that there’s a perceived lack of leadership and progression for individuals from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, and that generally, we are not seeing black social workers in more senior roles. This has got to change.”
Akhtar said Social Work England would explore issues relating to equality, diversity and inclusion as part of two pieces of research it was commissioning related to its fitness to practise function. Last year, the regulator said that black, Asian and ethnic minority practitioners were disproportionately represented in fitness to practise referrals, while facing adjudication panels that were disproportionately white compared with the profession.
Social Work England said in a statement it was encouraging people from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds to apply to be adjudicators to sit on its fitness to practise panels. “A workshop will be held specifically for people from these backgrounds to ensure they have the opportunity to learn more about us as a regulator, hear about the role, learn more about the application process and ask any questions,” they said.