Councils urged to join project to curb social workers’ workloads

Fifteen authorities sought to scrutinise and test ideas to increase the time practitioners have for direct work with children and families

Post-it notes on a wall with the word 'workload' in the foreground
Photo: iconimage/Adobe Stock

Councils have been urged to join a project to help curb the workloads of social workers in local authority children’s services departments.

Fifteen authorities will scrutinise and test ideas and resources to tackle unnecessary burdens on practitioners in order to enable them to spend more time with children and families.

The so-called review testing and implementation network (RTIN) will work alongside the national workload action group (NWAG), which the Department for Education (DfE) has set up as part of its children’s social care reforms.

The NWAG’s remit is to “streamline and reduce unnecessary regulatory, central government and local level workload drivers” and consider “effective and efficient case recording and recording of the child’s voice”.

The evidence on children’s social worker workloads

The DfE’s measure of caseloads for local authority social workers in England has remained stable at between 16 and 17 from 2019-22.

There has been a similar level of stability in the amount of unpaid overtime children’s social workers work – about six hours a week – over this time, according to successive waves of the DfE-commissioned longitudinal survey.

However, the survey, which has tracked the attitudes of a group of council children’s social workers since 2018, has found a deteriorating picture on practitioners’ experience of their workload.

Notably, 63% of practitioners said their overall workload was too high in wave 5 of the research (carried out in autumn 2022), compared with 51% in wave 1 (November 2018 to March 2019).

Process for joining workloads project

The NWAG is being supported by a consortium comprising Research in Practice, Essex County Council and King’s College London.

Research in Practice is calling on authorities to express an interest in joining the RTIN, and is looking for participants from a diversity of regions and with a mix of Ofsted ratings (outstanding, good or requires improvement).

Chosen authorities will assess and test the resources through online group sessions and by providing feedback, also online. Each authority will receive £7,000 to cover costs.

Essex County Council will co-ordinate the RTIN, whose work will run from January 2024 to March 2025.

The finalised resources will be published on the DfE’s website.

If you are interested in joining the RTIN, fill in this expression of interest form by 26 January 2024.

13 Responses to Councils urged to join project to curb social workers’ workloads

  1. Mark January 19, 2024 at 1:58 pm #

    Will any of these “projects” include recruiting more social workers, thereby reducing caseloads?

  2. Martin January 20, 2024 at 9:40 am #

    The problem here is that the national calculation is wrong. The average case load is not 16-17. The case load calculation takes all qualified SW’s employed by the LA and divides this figure with the number of open cases. This includes Adoption SW’s, fostering SW’s etc, who don’t hold children’s cases and therefore reduce the overall figure . So most SW’s are looking at this average case load wondering why their case load is nowhere near this figure!

    • Dr Ciarán Murphy January 20, 2024 at 5:26 pm #

      Martin, quite right. The figure does not differentiate between CS social work roles. My current project surveying 201 current child protection social workers around England identified an average caseload of 36. Similar findings by London and South East researchers.

    • Julie Munro January 23, 2024 at 12:41 pm #

      I agree and ask do they take into account the 1st year qfd sw’s have a protected case-load? I doubt it!

  3. Louise January 20, 2024 at 9:00 pm #

    Working in Early Help, the number of cases held may well be max 16, however, the number of children being worked with could well be double this for an average family of 2 adults and 2 children. Working with all family members increases the workload, along with needing Knowledge in SEN, Mental health (adults and children), specialist areas such as Housing, DA,
    More and more work is for parenting, children on the SEN pathway, or with Mental health affecting with every day life, with a NHS that is unable to cope or offer these children and young people the support they need, so we act as the glue attempting to hold it all together until they’re accepted by the relevant specialists services.

  4. Matt January 20, 2024 at 9:06 pm #

    I feel 16-17 is too high anyway, given the complexities and challenges of the work, and of course the case recording and assessment writing! Glad to hear there is some movement in the right direction though 🙂

  5. Dani January 20, 2024 at 11:49 pm #

    Martin that is exactly my experience as well. The senior managers know what they are doing. Ofsted could ask the workers about the number of allocated cases but they don’t want to know either- nothing to see here mentality.

  6. Jenny January 21, 2024 at 12:37 pm #

    In teams that i work in cases are akways over 20, some have over 30, not sustainable and im training to be a social worker….not sure that anyone should have over 20.
    Although money should be spent on more social workers the bottom line lies with parenting, surely we should tackle this too.

  7. Pauline O'Reggio January 21, 2024 at 6:03 pm #

    Caseloads are not 16/17 they are much higher. A social worker’s caseload could involve 2 to 3 pre-birth assessments and adoption Medical documents which are lengthy documents requiring a great deal of information.

    You may have a risk assessment, parenting assessment of one or both parents, plus relatives, coupled with several child protection cases requiring reviewing of case plans. You end up working late into the evening if you are required to undertake a Section 47 investigation resulting in a child having to be placed away from the family.

    Social workers have to work late into the night to prepare reports which you have not been given realistic timescales to complete. What is worrying is the documents social workers have to complete are important in respect of telling the child’s story and are documents the child may want to read at some point in their lifetime, therefore need to be well analyzed with accurate information to support the child’s plan.

    Social work is now target lead and does not allow appropriate time to carry out thorough professional practice.

    Then the cycle of social worker blaming begins when targets are not met. To save time you may be told to complete an assessment over the phone, this is unacceptable and should be addressed if this is what it takes to complete an assessment within the time scale.

  8. Kieran Dunne CQSW January 22, 2024 at 7:35 am #

    Does the survey take into account a day each week on Duty or Back up Duty representing 1/5 the of the SWs working week equivealent or 1.5 cases approx?
    And does it differentiate between complex and straightforward cases or siblings’ extra needs within core assessment?

  9. Charlie January 22, 2024 at 8:59 am #

    My caseload before I left was 35+, half of the children were on child protection. Timescales to see children on CP was every 10 days.l Children in an assessment stage had to be also seen every 10 days. CIN children every 4 works. Timescales were worshipped like a god. You’d get at least 5 angry emails by various managers on Tuesday if got forbid you missed a visit. Those Timescales caused us to be in a constant stage of burnout, buried in paperwork, as always had some visits to write up of around 70 child visits a month. On top were assessments, court work, CIN/CP meetings to hold, conferences etc. Became detrimental to my health to continue doing this job. Stepped down, work part time now, started a side hustle and I’m much happier now. I don’t believe that those proposed changes will make things easier for social workers or better for the families. In my experience, some new grand idea aleays causes more hardship for workers and families. I bet this new proposal has something to do with Rishis proposal for a smaller and more efficient publick sector. I’m worried under this caseloads will shoot up to 50+ easily

    Get out as soon as possible is my soundest advice.!!! It’s not worth it. You can always find something to do to help others, but not as a LA social worker and not especially under a Tory government. Those pldo not seem to care or even like people.

    • Ray January 23, 2024 at 7:24 am #

      Your analysis is so real, after 17 years I also stepped down and I am much happier. Case loads, complexity of cases and lack of support are at the top. Burn out and Mental health are an issue but no one cares. The mentality is others are doing it how about you.

  10. S G January 22, 2024 at 11:15 am #

    My caseload has never been below 30, which I was given 3 weeks into my first social work role. I’ve had as much as 63 cases. I am currently sitting on 42 cases which is creeping up again slowly but surely.

    Figures are skewed for many reasons, and a major one is to do with entire families being put under an umbrella of 1 case. I had a family with 7 children and it was counted as 1, even though they all had different issues, needs, and lived in 3 different homes.

    Without more funding and a major recruitment drive, this will only get worse. I’m only on year 3 of my career and I’m already considering moving on due to the workload, stress, and lack of support from managers. Increasing my medication again just to cope with the demands has seriously put a dent in my confidence.