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MLAs challenged to become social workers for the day as report reveals lack of understanding of role

NIASW is challenging the country’s MLAs to spend a day on the job so they can see the challenges facing care services for themselves.

NIASW say a lack of understanding about the social work role in adult care services is affecting the quality of services being offered as it launches a “blueprint” for improvement at Stormont today.

The ‘Blueprint for Change’ has been developed from a survey of social workers from all programmes of care within adult services across statutory and voluntary sectors in Northern Ireland.

The report outlines key challenges identified by social work staff working in adult services settings, including promoting the social work role, tackling excessive paperwork and freeing up social workers to spend more time with service users.

The three most pressing issues identified overall were:

  • recording onto client notes (76%)
  • responding to unplanned crisis (76%)
  • completing forms to access services (66%)

In addition, 80% of respondents are working in excess of their contracted hours just to keep on top of their work demands. 66% are working 20 additional unpaid hours each month.

NIASW Manager Carolyn Ewart said: “Lack of resources means that social workers are increasingly meeting the needs of the system, not the needs of the person.

“I don’t think many people really understand the job or how social workers make such a difference to the lives of our most vulnerable residents. We are asking MLAs to spend just a day walking in our shoes so they can see the pressures for themselves”.

This lack of understanding can also extend to colleagues in other public services. One social worker said: “Sometimes there is a lack of clarity about what makes the social work role different from other professionals as everyone seems to be doing much the same thing. There can be a lack of understanding by other professionals about the social work role - they think we are all experts in issues such as social security benefits”.

NIASW is writing to all MLAs to invite them to spend a day in front line services to increase their understanding. Robin Swann MLA has already spent the day with a social worker.

The number of adults being referred to social services following concerns about their safety has increased dramatically as has demand on social work staff who take the lead in many of these cases.

One social worker told NIASW there were “Not enough social workers to carry out the number of assessments coming in, people are being left at risk”. Another said, “It feels like the role of social work is not valued as we are perceived as ‘form fillers”.

Many social workers surveyed cited paperwork and duplication of assessment records as “totally unmanageable”.

The NIASW report highlights a typical example of a social worker receiving a referral from a GP about a 78 year old woman with a history of angina and limited mobility living alone and struggling to cope.

This single referral prompts 13 hours 15 minutes spent on documentation and bureaucracy, with just four and a half hours spent with the service user.

The full version of the NIASW report ‘A Blueprint for Change’ is available here