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NIASW hands report to minister, urging sweeping reforms to social work bureaucracy

The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW – part of BASW) has handed the minister responsible for social work a report containing a series of recommendations aimed at reducing the bureaucratic burdens on child care social workers.

Among the 16 recommendations given to Edwin Poots are proposals that would reduce the time social workers currently spend on tasks not requiring their expertise and streamline the way information is recorded.

The aim of the report, specifically requested by Mr Poots in response to NIASW’s Social Work Not Paperwork survey, is to enable social workers to spend more time with children and families and less time on wasteful bureaucratic tasks. The NIASW poll, published in November 2012, found that excessive bureaucracy was restricting child care social workers to spending less than a third of their time with users of services.

NIASW said the onus needed to be placed on employers to review the administrative support available to social workers and that a Regional Reducing Bureaucracy Task Force should be set up to oversee reductions in unnecessary paperwork.

Aiming to reduce the amount of data input to just one system where possible, the NIASW report, Reducing Bureaucracy in Child Care Social Work, called for the Understanding the Needs of Children in Northern Ireland (UNOCINI) system to become the single common referral and assessment tool within children’s services and across agencies in Northern Ireland, and for the same model to be employed with children requiring short term placements.

Non paperwork issues were also highlighted, such as the time social workers spend transporting children to contact meetings – limiting professionals to the role of “a glorified taxi service” according to NIASW’s Manager Carolyn Ewart. Time wasted in law court corridors waiting for a care proceedings case to be heard were another issue highlighted in the report, with NIASW recommending specific morning and afternoon sittings for the Northern Ireland Court Service so social workers can better plan their time.

The wide-ranging series of recommendations called for a National Social Work Forum, akin to that in Scotland, to foster good practice around Northern Ireland.

Specific measures for social workers at differing stages of their career were also recommended, including proposals to pilot  a Mentoring Scheme – potentially run by NIASW – and for the supervision of newly qualified social workers (NQSW) to be regularly audited to ensure compliance with NISCC standards.

Commenting on the report, which is now with the Minister, pending his response, Ms Ewart said: “It is welcome
that the Minister wants to hear the practitioner’s voice and we have been able to provide him with exactly that. It remains to be seen if he will take on board our recommendations, but NIASW is fully committed to working with the DHSSPS and
all other stakeholders to ensure that the changes needed will be put in place.”