And research suggests the problem appears to be getting worse, at least in children’s services.
The latest report (wave 5) of the Department for Education’s (DfE) longitudinal survey of council children’s social workers, conducted in autumn 2022, said 63% of practitioners reported that their overall workload was too high.
This was compared with 51% in wave 1 (November 2018 to March 2019). The research also found a link between practitioners’ feelings about their workload and their job satisfaction.
The wave 5 report said that 84% of those who felt dissatisfied with their job felt their workload was too high, compared with 56% of those who were satisfied.
Social workers have also highlighted the impact of high caseloads on the quality of practice.
In response to a 2022 Community Care poll asking how child protection could be improved, two-thirds of more than 1,100 readers who took part said the best way would be by lowering caseloads.
Meanwhile, Ofsted’s national director of social care, Yvette Stanley, has identified manageable caseloads as a key component of good performance in council children’s services.
Acknowledgement but inaction
But while there is mounting evidence demonstrating the impact high caseloads have on practitioners and practice, particularly in children’s services, what are employers doing about it?
When asked that question, in a Community Care poll that amassed 564 votes, almost half of readers (47%) said their employer had acknowledged the pressures arising from high caseloads, but not addressed them.
Over one third (37%) said their employer had done neither, while only 10% said theirs had both acknowledged and addressed high caseloads.
Action group to help tackle workloads
In September, the DfE announced it had set up a group, called the national workload action group (NWAG), to tackle “unnecessary workloads” for council children’s services social workers so they can spend more time with families.
The NWAG, which will be supported by Research in Practice, Essex County Council and King’s College London, will help councils develop environments that support social workers’ wellbeing so they can thrive at work, the DfE has said.
How, if at all, is your employer addressing high caseloads in your workplace? Tell us in the comments below.