Black children’s social workers more positive about work environment than colleagues, finds survey for DfE

BASW lead questions apparently positive findings in face of widespread reports of racism, though research also shows black practitioners more negative about career progression and job security than other staff

A white and a Black woman talking in the workplace
Photo: olly/Adobe Stock

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.

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.

12 Responses to Black children’s social workers more positive about work environment than colleagues, finds survey for DfE

  1. Althea August 10, 2021 at 10:04 am #

    Hold on, black workers are not one homogenous mass but have individual experiences that don’t conform to the narrative chosen for us by BASW? Wrong kind of black workers we must be. The lesson surely is to stop paying attention to ‘experts’ and self defined for profit ‘training’ consortia and to actually also listen beyond BASW membership. Black social worker experiences are not always positive and career progression is biased but the bleak woe is us narrative is way off the mark. Social work is a mess and increasingly divorced from the communities it’s supposedly serves. But I also know that my experiences are far more affirming than that of my sister who was bullied out of her job at John Lewis. Which is run by a black woman. Figure that.

    • The Watcher August 13, 2021 at 8:38 pm #

      That is quite a riddle Althea!

      This verdict from the DfE does not surprise me. Show me your paymasters (Patel, Badendoch, Kwarteng et al) and I’ll tell you what you are…

  2. Southern Kestrel August 13, 2021 at 8:48 pm #

    Of course SWE are commissioning research! 🙄

    They might possibly be allergic to taking any real action! How about another survey?

  3. Carol August 14, 2021 at 11:17 am #

    Didn’t BASW tells us that black workers were denied PPE by racist managers? How can that toxicity lead to positive experiences in the workplace? Try again until you get the right answer DfE.

  4. Althea August 16, 2021 at 9:27 am #

    DfE and BASW are the opposite ends of a narrative more concerned with demonstrating a pre-identified conclusion than highlighting the realities of black experiences. Badenoch and her allies versus BASW echo chambers is not where I am at The Watcher. Time we had grassroots narratives not ones defined for us by careerist ploticians or self reverential ‘professional’ leaders. Votes for one and membership subs for the other says all I need to know.

    • The Watcher August 16, 2021 at 6:33 pm #

      Hmmm, still cryptic Althea. Your position seems fixed, so let’s leave it there.

  5. Althea August 17, 2021 at 8:22 am #

    My position is fixed on the evident truth that whichever organisation seeks to define my blackness, my experiences, my thoughts has their own agendas which do not necessarily reflect my own reality. It is irrelevant to me how they play the no racism here or all is racism narrative. Life is not as binary as ‘leaders’ would like to narrow it down to. Nothing cryptic about seeing with my own eyes, hearing with my own ears, casting a critical faculty over claims made on my behalf. I don’t have the imagination for anything more complex.

  6. Arthur August 22, 2021 at 11:14 am #

    Once we accept BASW only represent their members and not the majority of social workers and Kijijiji is a for profit consultancy it’s more than plodding that like me other black social workers have a more rounded experience of our work environments. That’s not to say we don’t have negative and racist experiences but like Althea says it’s not always woe. We need and should stamp on the racists but as black workers we also mould services so should own our power.

  7. Carol August 23, 2021 at 12:36 pm #

    Good to read that as black social workers we aren’t forever being ‘done’ to and have our own strengths and agency.

  8. Fiona August 24, 2021 at 4:05 pm #

    This is total fabrication. Black workers are diminishes every moment in the workplace to the point where our lives are even put at risk to safeguard white folk as Wayne Reid proved. I would ask any black social worker who beleives they are treated good to look at what the white folk are really doing.doing. You might think they are treating you well but they do not care for you deep down. Social work is full of racists. That’s it.

  9. Keith August 24, 2021 at 8:19 pm #

    When will BASW tell us what they did to support black colleagues denied PPE?

  10. Wendy Page August 26, 2021 at 7:55 pm #

    Nothing seem to change in social work. I spent thirty years in various positions.still issues of racism exist in this profession with so much anti-racism courses .the profession is meant to work with the more disadvantaged in society .how can it can be successful in this area if groups of their colleagues are continued to be treated so badly. I not sure it’s a profession that will continue to exist other profession will absorb the work of the social work.it has no voice.i have seen television programs where they don’t bother to include the social worker.(watch coronation street.) BASW in my opinion are selected in who they will support.Iwas never sure what they role is. in my thirty years they do not support black workers.it will present written reports in practice it non existence.