The UK Social Workers: Working Conditions and Wellbeing is the first study of its kind, and paints an extremely worrying picture of ‘spun out’ social workers leaving the profession in droves. If we are to keep these key staff in vital services then we need to create a new environment for social workers now
Ever increasing demand but diminishing resources has created a crisis in social services, and social workers are bearing the brunt. This has led to record-high sickness levels and over half of the social care workforce intending to leave the profession.
This isn't new news, certainly not for anyone connected with the profession who will have seen and heard evidence first-hand from social workers.
But now we have real figures and hard numbers to quantify exactly what is happening in the profession, how social workers are feeling and how they are reacting.
The independently produced UK Social Workers: Working Conditions and Wellbeing study was completed in July 2017 by Bath Spa University’s Dr. Jermaine Ravalier, in conjunction with the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and Social Workers Union (SWU).
It was the first research to look solely at the wellbeing of social workers, and the results are concerning.
A standout finding was that 52% of UK social workers intend to leave the profession within 15 months, this increases to 55% for social workers working specifically in children's services.
The study also revealed that UK social workers are working more than £600 million of unpaid overtime.
Making the connection between the two facts isn't difficult. The study went further, by shining a light on the chief reasons social workers gave for wanting to leave the profession.
Massive, unmanageable caseloads, a lack of professional and peer support and burdensome red-tape and bureaucracy came top for over 70% of social workers surveyed.
So how can we reverse the conveyor belt of talent leaving social work?
As the professional association for social workers, BASW believes it is quite possible to create working environments that will keep social workers in practice.
“We know the key elements of success: access to professional supervision, manageable caseloads, good leadership and fair management, reduced unnecessary bureaucracy, time to spend with individuals and families, and access to ongoing professional development and wellbeing support,” says BASW CEO Ruth Allen.
“Peer support is also crucial and protects against burn out, as the study showed,” adds Allen.
Which is why BASW is leading a new drive to work positively with employers and politicians, as well as social workers in practice, to promote these solutions.
Together with the author of the report, Dr. Jermaine M Ravalier, BASW will meeting MP's this month to press the case for a government rethink on its continued austerity measures regarding social services, as well as to challenge further barriers to good social work practice.
“A stable and well-trained workforce, with replenishment of new joiners as well as ongoing development of advanced skills is essential to meet social care and social work needs of children and adults,” says Allen.
“Less experienced social workers need mentoring from experienced staff. We must stem the risks of losing – and wasting the skills – of experienced staff.”
BASW is calling for the following changes:
Improve the level of demand on social workers to reduce stress and attrition rates by employing more social workers, ensuring a consistent approach to caseload allocation and enabling flexible and remote working (improved technology)
Ensure time for reflective supervision to work through complex cases
Ensure social workers’ managers have completed management training
Provide administrative support to enable social workers to focus on caseload
Reverse the blame culture and give social workers respect and positive support
Provision of independent professional support for social workers, readily accessible through various touch points such as a 'hotline'.
Mike Bush, experienced social worker and independent mental health consultant
“The concept seems to be that social workers can give endlessly to others and not need anything in return. Cars breakdown if they are not properly serviced and maintained – so do people in caring professions like social work.
“A burn-out social worker is no good to anyone. Nobody is winning from this situation. We need to address this now and it would be wise for the Government to listen to what BASW are saying and take heed of the solutions they recommend.”
“What our research has revealed is that most social workers are actually deeply fulfilled by their work but the satisfaction they feel can no longer outweigh the lack of support they are experiencing.
“Deep budget cuts are forcing social workers to take on more cases than ever, putting them under pressure to deliver a service to people that are often vulnerable with fewer resources. To keep up, they are simply giving away days of their personal time.
“If this keeps up, and the social workers we spoke with do leave the profession, local authorities will be forced to pay for contract workers who are expensive and transient.”