It’s Sunday mid-morning and I can already feel the anxiety rising in my chest.”
What is waiting for me in the morning? Who is annoyed I didn’t have time to see them or respond to them last week? What task from my to-do list have I gone another week without doing?
I wake early, the anxiety now fully formed dread, it surrounds me and filters all my thoughts. My legs are stiff as they have been every morning since I had Covid, which I caught at work, a few months ago. I turn on my work mobile to let the inevitable messages from the weekend begin to filter through and go about getting my family ready to go off to nursery, school and childcare.
Mercifully, my partner agrees to do the drop-off, giving me a few minutes to skull down a coffee before I go through the messages.
Some angry, some demanding, some desperate, some pleading, all urgent.”
I look through my diary. It’s an hour until I officially start my day, but I start going through emails and see that in my diary I have a children’s hearing this morning, two planned looked-after reviews this afternoon and two visits to get done after school time.
I phone the family about the hearing to make sure they will attend. They are upset. They don’t want to attend and it’s causing stress for them. I can’t support them more than trying to reassure them, but I know what I have to say will be tricky.
Meanwhile, my phone buzzes and pings through the call with other messages: “Call me now, it’s urgent”; “I’ve left you two voicemails, call me back today.”
‘Need feels like it’s at all-time high’
A lot of my clients are struggling. Family conflict, substance misuse, mental health issues feel like they’re at an all time high. I can’t respond to everyone immediately as my supervisor calls to let me know one of my allocated teenagers went missing at the weekend. I know I need to go and speak with her and her family today.
A colleague calls to say he was due to transport a child this morning and can’t do it. It is my case and he was helping me out, so I need to go and do that too. I jump in the car without responding to the messages waiting, I don’t have time.
From my car phone I call my errant client, check she is back safe and tell her I’ll see her later this morning. She asks me to bring money as she has none and she stole all her carer’s money and spent it over the weekend. I speak with the carer who apologetically confirms this. Ideally I’d go and buy them food but, short of time, I’ll need to request money from the petty cash and collect it.
I transport the other child as needed. The carer isn’t happy as I am later than was planned. I realise I won’t be back in time for the hearing so I go to the office base and put in the cash request form. I wait for the cash and then participate in the hearing by video from my laptop, after tethering it to my work phone as there’s no wifi.
After the hearing I drive out to give the cash and talk about going missing and the dangers.
We have a really good relationship but the carer is at a loss and so am I.”
I need to get back to the office to do my two reviews. It is already 12noon and the first is at 12.30pm. I make it but tech issues mean I don’t get logged on until 12.40pm and feel rushed.
‘There’s no time during the day’
The reviews go as planned. I knew they would as I spent a lot of time on the reports and prep, in the evening as there’s no time during the day.
I have two after-school visits to get done. It’s now almost 3pm, I haven’t eaten lunch and still haven’t returned those calls from this morning. I do the “easier” one first. It’s good to see the child and carer, but it’s really just a check-in as there isn’t much moving forward for this child, due to the current situation.
The other is more tense. There are family members there I don’t expect who have a lot to say. I have one eye on the time as it’s now 4.30pm and I have still to finish the visit, drive to the office first and then home, and pick up my children by 5.30pm. It’s going to be tight. Once again I call my partner to ask if he can do it, as I’m not going to make it.
I stay and resolve the issues at the visit as best I can. I find myself playing the role of family mediator more often than I remember doing before. I don’t really know why.
I finally get away about 5.20pm. I’ve not written a case note, returned a call or done any report writing.
Also I haven’t used the toilet or eaten all day.”
I use the loo at the office before racing home to see my kids before bedtime. On the way home, I return a couple of the calls from this morning. I explain I can’t respond today and try to say there hasn’t been time. Some clients get it but it’s still not fair on them.
An evening of case notes
I get home about 6.30pm and thank my partner for, once again, doing all the heavy lifting of keeping the kids’ schedule.
We eat dinner, put the kids to bed and I settle in for an evening of writing case notes and trying to make a start on the reports that are always waiting in the wings.
I wonder how much longer I can go on like this.
The writer is a children’s social worker practising in Scotland.