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MPs hear how social workers struggle with backlogs akin to "M25 at rush hour"

The second stage of an inquiry by MPs into the state of social work heard a wave of additional evidence from frontline social workers about why child protection practice is in a parlous condition and how new government adoption targets could deepen the crisis facing the profession and those who rely on its services.

Experienced practising social workers told MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Committee on Social Work how they and their colleagues are regularly working late into the evening and on weekends to deal with backlogs akin to “the M25 at rush hour”. They also reported a serious “disconnect” between centrally driven initiatives, including the Social Work Reform Board and The College of Social Work, and the reality of life for professionals who don’t have the time to find out what it all means.

Addressing MPs in a room overshadowed by Big Ben, Karen Goodman, an independent social worker currently employed as an interim manager in a local authority, said: “What I find now is profoundly worrying. Social work has never been as stressed, fraught and overwrought as I find now.

“We have very dedicated staff who don't go home on a Friday night until 8pm, and even then they are taking work home – I have to kick them out, that’s not unusual. The one over-riding statement they’d want me to make is ‘capacity’ - there’s just not the capacity in the system and I’ve never known it like it is now – just impossible."

Ms Goodman claimed the The Social Work Reform Board's work was not translating onto the frontline.

"I ask my staff who are out there on the frontline, in court, doing Section 47 work, do they know what’s happening with the Social Work Reform Board or The College of Social Work (TCSW)? No, it is completely irrelevant to them – there is a complete disconnect between leadership nationally and locally and what’s happening on the frontline in child protection and care proceedings.”

Ms Goodman was among four social workers to give evidence to the inquiry, which later heard from Megan MacGranhan and Judith Acreman about the challenges facing adoption social work practice, and Iain Brown, a social worker in a youth offending team.

Asked by MP Paul Goggins what would make a difference to the current imbalance between 70% of her time being spent on administration and 30% with children and families, Ms Goodman said: “You have to employ more staff, experienced skilled staff who know what should be done. And you need more administrative support, both in a practical sense and in the computer systems which are easier and not like ICS – much more user friendly and that meet the needs of staff better. It comes down to resources.” 

Giving testimony to the second evidence gathering session of the APPG inquiry, held on 27th November, Ms Goodman said staff were also facing financial pressures which impacted on morale. “I know social workers who have struggled to afford the re-registration. This year, we’ve not only had to pay the GSCC but we’ve had to pay the HCPC as well. Some staff are on the breadline. They’ve seen their money actually cut, their travel allowances cut, they are paying for their own parking, it’s really difficult.”

The reality of life in local authority children’s services rarely gets highlighted, Ms Goodman continued, telling the MP-led inquiry, chaired by Labour backbencher Ann Clywd: “There is an ongoing culture of fear amongst my staff – they do fear telling the truth and losing their jobs. They don’t feel whistleblowing works. They also feel a diminution of the standards as the regulation moves from the GSCC to HCPC, they feel that very deeply. We all do.”

The APPG inquiry is being held in response to lobbying by the British Association of Social Workers in the wake of its State of Social Work survey earlier this year, in which 1,100 respondents reported unmanageable caseloads, cuts to support staff and plummeting morale.

See more about the State of Social Work survey