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Call for more support for social workers at 'crucial' early career point

Report finds practitioners two to three years into their careers are least satisfied and more stressed

Published by Professional Social Work magazine - 12 August 2019

A government-commissioned study called for better support for social workers two to three years into their career after it found this group had the lowest job satisfaction and highest stress levels.

The report by research agency IFF surveyed 5,621 social workers working in children’s services. It found around half of social workers (51 per cent) felt stressed by their job, but this rose to 70 per cent among those two to three years in.

This group was also more likely to report their workload was too high (60 per cent compared to an average of 51 per cent) and that they worked overtime regularly.

“It appears that two to three years post qualification is a crucial point, as people move out of the ASYE year,” the report found. 

“For some, the experience after this was a shock as they felt no longer protected and were expected to be functioning as an experienced social worker.”

The study said ways to better support the transition out of ASYE into experienced practitioner roles needed to be explored to boost retention.

It identified a series of issues with working conditions for social workers, including:

• The most common causes of stress were too much paperwork (68 per cent), too many cases (50 per cent) and insufficient time for direct work with children and families (44 per cent)

• Only around half agreed that their office environment was appropriate and that the IT systems supported them to do their jobs

• The vast majority (85 per cent) felt there were barriers to career progression, with too high a workload the most commmonly cited

• On average social workers worked an extra seven hours a week beyond their contracts

• In interviews social workers raised concerns about the balance of direct work with children and families as opposed to the “bureaucratic” requirements 

Maris Stratulis, BASW England national director, said the findings resonated with the BASW England 80/20 campaign. “Social workers continue to spend too much time on process and sitting in front of  their computer rather than undertaking direct work  with children and families.

"Relationship based social work underpins the 80/20 campaign and this practice requires skilled and reflective use of self, informed by critical reflection, analysis, creativity and curiosity.”

She added: “Such relational, reflective practice cannot happen in a vacuum and must be supported by an organisational environment that encourages learning and creates spaces for emotionally-informed and supportive supervision.

"We will keep making the case to government and working with employers.”

The report found one in ten social workers planned to move into agency work in the next year. Of those who had moved to agency roles, better pay and increased flexibility were the main motivators.

Another ten per cent of social workers planned to  move out of child and family social work or leave the profession entirely. The most common reasons for wanting to leave were high caseloads, paperwork and working hours. Another “important driver” was disliking the culture of local authority social work.

Reasons social workers gave for entering the profession centred on altruism and wanting to make a difference. Social workers were generally positive about their line managers and three quarters still found their job satisfying.

The report is the first from a wider study tracking social worker careers in child and family services over five years.

This article is published by Professional Social Work magazine which provides a platform for a range of perspectives across the social work sector. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the British Association of Social Workers.