Do employers address issues with high caseloads in social work teams?

As surveys of social workers suggest caseload pressures are getting worse, we asked readers whether employers were addressing them

Photo by Community Care

Caseloads continue to be one of the leading factors affecting quality of practice and leading to social workers burning out or quitting.

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.

Do you have a experience or opinion to share or write about? Read our guidelines page and contact our community journalist at

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.


11 Responses to Do employers address issues with high caseloads in social work teams?

  1. TiredSocialWorker December 8, 2023 at 10:37 am #

    My employer addresses it by just moving the goalposts. A few months ago we were told a caseload should be 16. Now we are told it’s 19 with no explanation. If you complain, they guilt trip you into saying you need to be a team player and need to be committed to the children. And then tell you that you need to be more organised, take more breaks, as if not coping with excessive work is your own fault. Sadly while there are those of willing to succumb to this gaslighting and carry on working for free into the evenings and weekends this will continue.

    • Terrence Southam December 8, 2023 at 11:04 pm #

      Take your hour lunch breaks. Take your TOIL. Leave work at work. Complete assessments in a shorter time frame. Complete them in less detail to get more done. Take notice of audit results and complete them in more detail. Complete assessments in 1 visit. Prioritise the urgent jobs. Ensure every loose end is tied up before moving on to the next job. Ensure CPD. Cancel training if you have too much to do. Don’t do extra courses because the team is short of staff. Don’t take students because it takes too much time. Support new staff. Don’t double up on visits.
      And my personal favourite from last year- if your fuel costs are too high, WFH to save on petrol. If your heating bills are too high, commute and work in the heated office. (Oh and no increase in car or mileage allowance).

  2. Dave S December 8, 2023 at 9:46 pm #

    Groundbreaking…was there really a need for a study, a survey, questionioning years of misery and despair in destroying the belief in trying to do the job meaningfully!
    Ignoring the obvious has reflected the invisible nature of social work for years!

  3. Anon December 9, 2023 at 6:42 am #

    15 years of working in Adults Social Care., should demonstrate how committed I have been until the recent experience with a West London L.A. (mental health service)
    I am not the best Social Worker, however I certainly have a lot to offer and have been complimented by other Professionals on my practice they have witnessed.
    Given the state of Social Care I am highly offended at the racist behaviour experienced during the interview I attended at short notice. I am concerned also given that these individuals will also be working with vulnerable individuals and trusted to support them!

  4. Winston December 9, 2023 at 7:01 am #

    No surprise and equally applies to work with adults. The altruistic reservoir is only so deep.

  5. Claire December 9, 2023 at 9:33 am #

    Social workers have essentially been turned into statistic gatherers for Ofsted via recording systems. Managers simply enforce this. Yes, data is important to understand where the pressures are however, I began practicing when we still had pen and paper records, we still knew where the pressures were because we were actually out in our community rather than stuffed behind a desk gathering stats so managers could be patted on the head at inspection time. We are our greatest tool to promote change, not the act of feeding data into a machine.

  6. Pauline O'Reggio December 9, 2023 at 12:01 pm #

    I agree with the above comment of the tired social worker. Caseloads remain high with unachievable expectations to provide safe recommendations and good equality reports, you are not given individual reflective time, sorry to say some managers play the avoidance game which is time-consuming and depleting before you are demanded to submit a report, as the person above clearly states you are made to feel you can not do the job or you are the problem, this is far from the truth you are working on the ground and can see what is happening. Those in senior management should listen, there should be a culture of expression without fear of losing your career or integrity or being made to feel you can not fulfill the role.

    Managers should look at how they allocate cases, they should consider is the social worker being given enough time to complete, what is a serious report, and recommendations. Not considering various requirements can lead to the wrong decisions being made. This is where the blame culture comes into play.

    For example, you may be given a pre-birth assessment to complete within six weeks before the birth even though the case has been on the team for eight months, this leaves no time for the required practice to take place with appropriate safeguards for the child and social worker. Is this not about management decisions and how and when cases are allocated?

    If you ask why you have been required to provide a report at such short notice your notice is handed in for you. Reports and assessments are important documents, social workers should have time to read the history of a case, ask
    valid questions, and complete relevant checks, sadly sometimes you are given a couple of weeks to complete what is a very important document. When timescales are not met, the social worker is then blamed.

    Cases allocated are high-risk however you may have several cases that require immediate assessments but because the cases are allocated a few weeks before submission, timescales are missed even though you only had the case for a short period, is this not questionable decision-making?

    Social work is a professional career where you are working with children and families emotions should the service not reflect this if we are to safeguard children now and in the future?

    The above is based on my own experiences and observations.

  7. Dave December 11, 2023 at 4:12 pm #

    Terence Southam – YES, THIS! Be your all & everything to everyone, but treat yourself poorly as a result. For a caring professional, this sector truly doesn’t care about its staff. Lip service. Fashionable rhetoric. Nothing practical. Teams are monitored, short staffed as they sweat, cry, disappear and then budgets are ‘found’ for staff that take another 6 months to employ. You are valued though. You are. Can you take this extra allocation, despite dying on your feet…go on, for the team?!

  8. Sara P December 11, 2023 at 6:41 pm #

    ‘Case loads’ is just a number. Each local authority has different resources. My highest case load was 62 but we had fantastic support – a SWA and a PA. Now my caseload is 30 but if I want to post something like a plan which is crucial to the work we do, I have to buy my own stamp and walk to the post box down the street! Then I have to fill a form in if I want the stamp cost reimbursed! Im more stressed at 30 than I was when I had 62 children across 37 families (1 family = 1 hour of my time per week). Statistics don’t reflect reality at all

  9. Pauline O'Reggio December 13, 2023 at 6:23 pm #

    Each case requires serious completion of documents which will impact on a child’s future. The information provided needs to be accurate, informative, and supportive of any plans for the child. There needs to be adequate decision-making with accurate analysis to support strong decision-making. If you do not have space to do what is a fundamental part of the role leaves children at risk.

  10. Kelly December 20, 2023 at 9:53 pm #

    Sadly, having worked in children’s services for many years it is the same old story,not enough staff and children who need allocated SW’s.
    It they seriously dealt with the beaucracy issues and reduced our administration tasks or gave us extra admin help then we could cope witha few more cases.