Social workers’ strenuous workloads, especially in children’s services, have long been seen as undermining practice.
As of autumn 2022, 63% of council children’s social workers considered their workload too high, found a Department for Education (DfE) survey.
A comparable proportion (61%) said the number of hours they spent on each case had increased over the previous five years.
Practitioners listed the complexity of cases, public service cuts, paperwork and high vacancy rates as the main reasons behind them spending longer on cases, in response to the latest wave of the DfE’s longitudinal survey.
High overtime rates
Naturally, as practitioners race against the clock to complete visits and admin each day, they mostly fail to finish work on time.
From 2019-22, children’s social workers did an average of six hours of unpaid overtime a week, according to successive waves of the longitudinal survey.
However, a recent Community Care poll, which amassed 553 votes, found that social workers who responded have been working more unpaid hours than this, on average.
While almost one-third of respondents (32%) said they were working six to ten hours overtime a week, just over half (52%) reported doing 11-15 additional hours (23%) or 16+ hours above their contracted limit (29%). The rest (16%) said they worked an extra one to five hours a week.
‘I have no choice but to work on evenings and weekends’
The comments section of a recent article on the DfE’s launch of a national action group to tackle workloads painted a picture that matched the findings.
Practitioners shared their experiences of being forced to work over evenings and weekends.
For Leanne, a newly qualified social worker on the assessed and supported year in employment, “every hour I spend with a child equates to four hours of admin”.
“I’m also sure my caseload is not currently protected, as I have more cases than the senior social workers on the team. And it’s not like they’re less complex ones. I have no choice but to work on evenings and weekends because I would never meet deadlines. I’ve started making a note of my excess hours to try and attempt to take it back as time off in lieu (TOIL), but that seems futile because if I take time off, that just generates more work.”
However, fellow reader Jimmy said that recording hours was a good idea, urging: “Social workers need to log their hours, keep their calendars fully up to date and tell their managers they will be taking the time back.
“Then in supervision tell your supervisor there is just no capacity to take on more. The more social workers keep doing this overtime for free, the more councils will continue to up the caseloads.”
Call for paid overtime
Another practitioner, Ryan Simonet, who works an average of 10-15 hours more than he is contracted to each week, called for paid overtime.
“Were we to be paid overtime, watch how quickly caseloads and bureaucracy would be reined in.”
However, Clara warned that there were cultural issues that militated against safer workloads.
“I have met workers who will overwork themselves to the point of harming their health,” she added. “Workers who push back and want TOIL and boundaried workloads can get labelled as ‘difficult’. Whereas those who respond to requests to take on more are praised as ‘super-troupers’.”
How do you manage your workload? Tell us in the comments below.