Overworked and under-resourced – ‘mission impossible’ for social workers?

By Heather Cameron

A year on from my previous blog on the emotional pressures facing social workers, have the headlines improved any?

Going by a new Guardian survey of social workers, it would seem that the answer is a resounding no.

The Social Lives Survey revealed that while the majority of social workers enjoy their job, two-thirds say they can’t focus on what really matters and only a quarter feel their workload is manageable. Almost 80% work overtime every day, and 86% don’t get paid for doing so.

Heavy and increasingly complex caseloads was the most common reason given for stress among social workers in last year’s Community Care survey.

Unmanageable caseloads

Unison surveyed social work staff from across the UK about their work at the end of a day in April 2014. Just over half (52%) said their caseload size was affected by covering for staff shortages and nearly three quarters highlighted that there was no formal system in place to help manage their caseloads and ensure they are at a safe level. A significant minority (42%) noted that they left work with serious concerns, the main reason for which was being unable to complete paperwork, followed by being unable to speak to other agencies or professionals involved.

Similarly, in May 2012 the British Association of Social Workers published the findings of its State of social work survey which indicated that 77% of the social workers surveyed said their caseloads were unmanageable. One child protection social worker said “the team I work in currently is working at dangerous caseload levels in terms of child protection work”.

The emotional impact of the challenges of social work were highlighted by a number of respondents, as one mental health social worker described:

It makes me so sad that this job seems only to be possible if you sacrifice your own health and wellbeing

The subsequent inquiry into the state of social work report by the All Parliamentary Working Group at the end of 2013 also emphasised the extent of stress among social workers who are overloaded and under-resourced. It heard from a local authority social worker who said:

 “the more cases we have, the more corners we have to cut, and the more corners we have to cut the more we have significant numbers of children for whom we haven’t had the time to do a thorough assessment”.

Another social worker said that as a result of budget cuts, “the conditions for child-centred practice and safe working are being eroded”.

Impact of austerity

A little over two years on from the inquiry, it would seem there is no let up on the impact of austerity on the social work profession.

A huge majority (92%) of social workers who took part in the Guardian’s survey highlighted that spending cuts are affecting services and putting more pressure on care professionals. And it was felt by 88% of respondents that social work isn’t as high on the political agenda as other public services.

With further cuts to hit local authorities from April this year, following the government’s announcement of a 6.7% funding cut for councils, things may get worse before they get better.

To help offset the impact on social care, local authorities will be able to raise an extra £2 billion through a 2% Council Tax precept and the £1.5 billion Better Care Fund.

Nevertheless, it has been argued that this will not be enough to address the immediate social care crisis or to prevent an estimated £3.5 billion funding shortfall by the end of the decade.

‘Bad press’

As well as spending cuts increasing pressure on social workers, the negative perception of the profession was also raised by the Guardian’s survey:

“The government and media need to stop portraying social workers as child-snatchers and do-gooders. They should sometimes focus on the lives we have saved and positively changed.”

It was suggested that newspapers should also focus on the pressures put on social workers rather than always on when things go wrong, and the government should be supportive of the role and address the lack of recognition and support at the national level.

Way forward?

Perhaps the rest of the UK should be looking to Wales for good practice, where the happiest social workers reside.

In Wales there are lower caseloads, more support from managers and better integration with health. According to one social worker, “it’s a better place to be a social worker. Social work is recognised and valued; in England I don’t think it is.”

Social services in Wales have also been more protected from cuts than elsewhere. And you don’t see the same negative language about social workers in Wales as you do in some parts of the media in England, according to the Welsh Government’s minister for Health and Social Services.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read Heather’s other article on engaging fathers with social work.

Dementia’s impact on those who care

Old man

By Alan Gillies

Recent research has suggested that the rate of growth in the prevalence of dementia may be levelling out as the general health of the population increases. While such findings are encouraging, commentators have pointed out that increasing rates of obesity and diabetes, as well as the fact that people are living longer, means they have to be treated with caution.

Whether we face a continuing increase, a stabilisation or a decline in dementia, for those who are affected it will continue to have a devastating impact. And this includes not just the person with dementia, but also their loved ones and those who care for them.

A recent enquiry to our Ask a Researcher service asked for our help on this very question. As a social worker needing to understand the broader impacts of the disease on the family in order to be to provide appropriate help and support, the enquirer came to us looking for the available research evidence on the impacts of dementia on those caring for them. Our researcher was able to provide a comprehensive roundup of the current literature, highlighting the variety of issues facing carers of those with dementia.

Carers’ working lives

Not all the issues covered were ones that might be immediately obvious, like the practicalities of caring and the emotional impact of seeing a loved one affected. For example, one piece of research we were able to flag up examined the impact on carers’ working lives and workplace relationships.

Over half of respondents to a survey (53%) said that their work had been negatively affected due to their caring responsibilities. The survey highlighted the pressure on those in the prime of their working life, most often women, who are combining care for an older relative, often at a distance, with a range of other family responsibilities.

Minority ethnic carers

We also highlighted research on the way dementia can affect different sectors of the population. One recent study we identified, examined how the migration experiences and life histories of Sikhs living in Wolverhampton impacted on their experiences of caring for a family member with dementia and the barriers to accessing services.

It found that, rather than cultural differences, it was migrants’ experiences and perceptions of social exclusion, their perceived and actual social position as migrants, that affected the ways in which they accessed services.

Communicating with family members who have dementia

As well as drawing together a range of research on carers’ experiences and difficulties, we were able to include examples of initiatives, such as Talking Mats, which can help to improve the experience of caring for a loved one with dementia.

Talking Mats are a simple communication tool, developed at the University of Stirling, to help people with communication difficulties to express their views. It uses a simple system of picture symbols that allow people to indicate their feelings about various options relating to a topic.

Research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation looked at their use for people with dementia and their family carers. It found that, unexpectedly, although the people with dementia and the family carers both felt more involved in discussions using Talking Mats, the increased feeling of involvement was significantly higher for the carers. Carers repeatedly reported feeling ‘listened to’ by the person with dementia and felt that their loved one could actually ‘see’ their point of view. It found that many family carers said they often choose not to say something that is going to inflame a situation, so instead they say nothing at all. Whereas the Talking Mats tool allowed them time and space to have their say, and helped to organise and structure their conversation with the person with dementia for whom they cared.

Our response to the enquiry provided our member with a speedy and concise roundup of the currently available literature on the issues and difficulties facing those who provide vital care for people with dementia.


Our popular Ask a Researcher enquiry service is one aspect of the Idox Information Service, which we provide to members in organisations across the UK to keep them informed on the latest research and evidence on public and social policy issues. To find out more on how to become a member, get in touch.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Being a young carer shouldn’t be a struggle

Five teens hang out in a park and share a bible

By Stacey Dingwall

Last month the winner of the Apps for Good “People’s Choice Award” was revealed as a group of school pupils from Denbigh High School in Luton, with their idea for a mobile phone app to support isolated young carers. One of the team members revealed that “the problem that we are trying to solve is how can you help young carers get back into society, meet others like themselves and access the essential support services that they need – all in one place?

The question of how to support young carers also gained publicity earlier this year with the launch of a national campaign calling for policy changes to help young adult carers to participate in learning and work. NIACE, along with other members of the National Policy Forum for Young Adult Carers, is calling for three specific policy changes: young adult carers to be formally identified as a ‘vulnerable group’ giving them full entitlement to the 16-19 Bursary; young adult carers to be exempt from the 21 hour rule in the benefit system; and young adult carers to be able to access flexible hours Traineeships and Apprenticeships.

The extent of young carers in the UK

New measures introduced in April 2015 through the Care Act and the Children and Families Act place a responsibility on local authorities in England to take reasonable steps to identify young people who are caring for an ill or disabled family member, assess their needs and explicitly define what those needs are.

Our latest briefing for our members, many of whom work in children’s services or the voluntary sector, looks at the impact that caring can have on young people’s lives and how support can be improved.

2013 figures from the Office for National Statistics, based on the 2011 Census, placed the number of young carers (aged under 19) in England and Wales at 244,000. Of these, 23,000 young carers were aged under nine, and 10,000 were aged under seven. There were also 149,000 aged between 15 and 19, around twice the number aged between 10 and 14. Estimates from the Carers Trust suggest there are 36,821 carers in Scotland aged under 25, and around 30,000 child carers in Northern Ireland.

Hidden carers

In order to be identified in official statistics however, young carers need to be known to health, education and social care services. As acknowledged by the UK government’s 2010 Carers’ Strategy, many young carers actually remain hidden from services.

This is for two reasons: services need to do more to identify them; and some families actively conceal their need for a young person to undertake caring responsibilities, out of fear they will be taken into care. Another issue is that the young person or their family may not even recognise that they are classed as a young carer.

The practical, mental and emotional impacts of caring

With regards to the practical impact of caring, The Children’s Society has highlighted research by the Audit Commission which found that young carers between the ages of 16 and 18 had a much greater chance of being not in education, employment or training (NEET). In terms of the mental health of young carers, research by the Carers Trust found that 38% of those who participated indicated that they had a mental health problem. Additionally, the Longitudinal Survey of Young People in England (LSYPE) notes that young carers are 1.5 times more likely to have special educational needs, a disability or long-term illness themselves.

How to improve support for young carers?

The Carers Trust has made a series of recommendations for schools, GPs, health and social care services, and young carer and young adult carer support services, on actions they should take to improve the information and support available to young carers. These include that schools should establish a clear framework of support for young adult carers, which is embedded into the school’s policies and communicated to parents.

Our briefing also highlights examples of organisations who provide support and respite services for young carers, such as the Children’s Society’s Young Carers in Focus (YCiF) project. Part of the Include programme, this service includes the provision of a dedicated social networking site for young carers and those working with them, as well as specialist weekends, which offer young carers the chance to build skills and knowledge across a wide range of topics, including different potential future professions.


The Knowledge Exchange specialises in public and social policy. To gain an insight into the commentary it offers, please explore our publications pages on the Knowledge Exchange website.

Our members benefit from exclusive brieings, access to a dedicated team of researchers, and current awareness services. You can find out more about our unique service in this blog article and for more information on membership options, contact us.

Fathers and social services – is there a failure to engage?

paper family on handBy Heather Cameron

With failure to effectively engage with fathers repeatedly highlighted in serious case reviews over the years, it is worrying to hear that such failure is still evident within the social work profession.

Failure to engage

Just last week, a High Court judge heavily criticised children’s social workers for their “unprofessional” and “reprehensible” case building against a father whose child was up for adoption. The case involved making a decision on whether to return a two-year-old girl to her father and three siblings or allow her to be adopted by the couple she had lived with for the previous 16 months.

The judgement stated that the social workers’ evidence expressed opinions that they were not qualified to make, describing it as ‘psychobabble’. The judge also noted that this evidence was ‘entirely at odds’ with the evidence of qualified professionals and that the local authority gave insufficient weight to the observations of professionals working with the family.

The social workers were also criticised for continually referencing a “clearly out of date” parenting assessment completed in 2012, stating that this “still apparently colours their view of the father”.

It would seem that there could be deep-seated barriers within the social work profession preventing effective engagement with fathers.

Barriers

In fact, there has been much research around the barriers to fathers’ engagement.

It has been widely suggested that an inability among social workers to believe that a father has changed following past negative behaviour, and traditional assumptions and stereotypes about gender roles, have long played a role in preventing engagement.

An article published in 2009 which explored the representation of fathers in the social work literature argued that a pervasive and influential negative attitude towards fathers is widespread in the social work field.

More recently, a feasibility study highlighted that an analysis of serious case reviews conducted from April 2005 to March 2007 across England found a tendency for professionals to adopt ‘rigid’ or ‘fixed’ thinking, with fathers labelled as either ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’, leading to attributions as to their reliability and trustworthiness. The influence of mothers (which can be good or bad), traditional approaches by the profession in relation to gender and parenting, and fathers being reluctant clients were also cited as barriers.

Such barriers have also been demonstrated by men’s experiences. A study which examined the experiences of fathers involved with statutory social work in Scotland highlighted that respondents reported feeling marginalised from child protection processes and facing barriers to contact with their children. Some men had experienced false accusations of sexual abuse, resulting in long-term involvement with child protection professionals; and some of the respondents felt that they were regarded with suspicion by professionals, with statutory conditions still being applied even after criminal charges had been dropped.

With such long-standing perceptions and approaches within the profession, it would be ill-advised to think that these can be fixed overnight. Nevertheless, there are signs that attitudes are changing.

Changing attitudes

A recent blog by Senior Evaluation Officer at the NSPCC, Nicola McConnell, acknowledges these tendencies within the profession but is confident attitudes are beginning to change. She highlights that only recently had she noticed that on most occasions she had not been interviewing ‘parents’ but almost exclusively mothers:

although services aim to work with parents, for a range of reasons including social organisation and gender expectations, services for children really tend to work with mothers.”

McConnell argues that this can lead to ‘flawed practice’ and discusses how professionals can improve their work with fathers through early engagement and taking a non-judgemental approach.

Facilitators of engagement have been consistently emphasised across the research:

  • Early identification and involvement of fathers;
  • Taking a proactive approach to engagement;
  • Making services relevant to fathers.

And the benefits of effective engagement have also been widely acknowledged. Numerous studies have emphasised the importance of engaging fathers for both children’s outcomes and risk management.

It has recently been highlighted that children with positively involved fathers tend to:

  • Make better friendships with better-adjusted children;
  • Have fewer behaviour problems;
  • Be less involved in criminality and substance abuse;
  • Do better at school;
  • Have greater capacity for empathy;
  • Have higher self-esteem and life-satisfaction.

Good practice

A project highlighted in a recent article in Children and Young People Now which aimed to increase social workers’ engagement with fathers and father figures has had positive results. Following the intervention at one local authority:

  • the percentage of fathers involved in their child’s core assessment rose from 47% to 82%;
  • the percentage of fathers invited to the initial case conference rose from 72% to 90%;
  • and the percentage of fathers whose involvement with the child was discussed at the initial case conference rose from 78% to 100%.

Social workers reported improvements in their practice, including motivating fathers to change problematic behaviour, engaging abusive men in discussion about their behaviour and assessing fathers’ positive qualities. It was also reported that some children had been placed with their fathers instead of being taken into care as a result of their new approach.

So progress is being made, illustrating that it is possible for engagement barriers to be overcome.


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to further research and good practice on social care services – to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Caring Dads: Safer Children – interim evaluation report (2014, NSPCC)

Engaging fathers in child welfare services: a narrative review of recent research evidence, IN Child and Family Social Work, Vol 17 No 2 May 2012, pp160-169

Fathers’ involvement in children’s services: exploring local and national issues in Moorlandstown, IN British Journal of Social Work, Vol 42 No 3 Apr 2012, pp500-518

Don’t ignore the father, IN Community Care, No 1818 13 May 2010, pp16-17

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Want to know about social work theory or neighbourhood planning? We’ve got the answers!

Subject coverage

By Heather Cameron

With the wealth of information available these days, it’s no wonder we hear the term information overload more and more. Whatever topic you are looking for information on, it can be difficult to find sources you you can rely on, with internet searches retrieving a lot of unreliable material. This is where services such as ours can be invaluable.

Helping you with information overload

The Idox Information Service database contains over 200,000 items with around 200 new items added every week, covering all aspects of public and social policy.

The material consists of research reports, articles from academic journals and industry magazines, policy, guidance, evaluations, case studies, good practice and grey literature. All are chosen and summarised by our research team, so you know that you are accessing reliable resources, many of which are not freely available on the internet.

Breadth of coverage

Popular searches recently carried out by our members have included the following topics, which demonstrate the breadth of our coverage:

  • Theories in social work
  • Child exploitation
  • Anti-discriminatory practice in social work
  • Neighbourhood planning
  • Place-based approaches
  • City deals
  • Smart cities
  • Wellbeing and work
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Planning for social inclusion
  • Wind farms and their impact
  • Green economy
  • Widening access to higher education
  • Joint working between universities and business
  • Social media
  • Marketing and branding
  • Performance management
  • Food banks

Our database has a wide range of material covering various aspects of these topics, including recently published work that keeps our members up-to-date.

Recent research

Members searching on any of these topics can be reassured that the latest research and commentary is included, as the database is updated daily.

For example, for the search on placed-based approaches, a recent article from Regions, The meta-approach to regional development: a re-appraisal of place-based thinking looks at the thinking which informs the practice of place-based approaches to local and regional development.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ recent report on whether worker well-being affects workplace performance could be of particular relevance for the search on well-being and work, as could Public Health England’s report on workplace interventions to improve health and well-being.

With all the media coverage around child exploitation cases in recent times, it’s not surprising that our members continue to search for recent information and good practice in this area. One of the most recent items on child exploitation we have added highlights lessons from Oxfordshire, where the council’s reputation has been raised to one of national exemplar in tackling child exploitation.

Searching on joint working between universities and businesses would reveal promising practice of employer-education engagement across London and the South East in a recent report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), as part of a study examining how small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-businesses in particular work together with secondary schools and colleges. In addition, a recent UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) report on university and employer collaboration outlines the ways in which universities and employers can form collaborative partnerships to develop higher level skills.

Search strategies

Of course, some of these topics will inevitably retrieve a lot of results, so using our advanced search option can help to narrow things down. For example, searching for “neighbourhood planning” in the title field will return 86 results compared to 277 results when searching in all fields:

Basic search

basic search

Advanced search

advanced searchIn comparison, searching for “neighbourhood planning” on Google returns rather more with around 260,000 results. I think it would be fair to say that it may take a long time to find the quality information required if you had to sift through all these!


 

Members of the Idox Information Service can conduct their own database searches, or can request a search by one of our Research Officers. 

Become a member of the Idox Information Service now, to access our database and current awareness ervices in the areas of public and social policy. Contact us for more details.

Child obesity – public health or child protection issue?

By Heather Cameron

The issue of childhood obesity is in the spotlight again. Just weeks after the Channel 4 series Junk food kids: who’s to blame? highlighted shocking stories of children having gained several stones in weight and children as young as four with rotten teeth, a new study reveals that parents rarely spot obesity in their children.

The results of the survey, given to nearly 3,000 families, showed that nearly a third, 31%, of parents underestimated the weight of their child. It would therefore be fair to say, as highlighted by one of the researchers, that “if parents don’t recognise a child is obese then they’re very unlikely to do anything to help their child move to a more healthy weight. Then it’s a potential major public health crisis being stored up.”

Obesity experts have called for stricter rules on the advertising of unhealthy foods and drinks in a bid to help address this public health issue. And the public would seem to support this, according to a recent poll, which revealed that almost two-thirds of Britons surveyed want a ban on junk food TV ads until after the watershed.

But is the childhood obesity epidemic just a public health issue?

There has been a high degree of contention for some time over whether obesity should also be considered a child protection concern. Numerous news reports have questioned whether children should be taken into care if they are considered obese and potentially at risk of harm.

Just last year it was reported that up to 74 morbidly obese children in the UK were estimated to have been taken into care over the previous five years, according to figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws.

Prior to this, an article from Protecting Children Update that looked at physical abuse in children highlighted obesity as a form of abuse, suggesting that many professionals see obesity as a form of neglect.

Similarly, the researchers of a much cited paper published in The BMJ in 2010 – When does childhood obesity become a child protection issue?argue that parents who refuse to help their overweight children to lose weight are neglectful. They say that whilst obesity alone is not a child protection issue:

consistent failure to change lifestyle and engage with outside support indicates neglect… childhood obesity becomes a child protection concern when parents behave in a way that actively promotes treatment failure in a child who is at serious risk from obesity.”

The report raises questions over how obesity should be addressed in terms of child protection, however, noting that there is evidence that families of obese children were being unfairly accused of abuse where rare genetic conditions were involved. It also suggests that removing obese children from their parents may in fact make matters worse.

With a lack of published evidence and guidelines for professionals, the report therefore suggests the following framework for action:

  • Childhood obesity alone is not a child protection issue
  • Failure to reduce overweight alone is not a child protection concern
  • Consistent failure to change lifestyle and engage with outside support indicates neglect, particularly in younger children
  • Obesity may be part of wider concerns about neglect or emotional abuse
  • Assessment should include systemic (family and environmental) factors

There is certainly no room for complacency, considering the knock-on effect the failure to recognise obesity could have on the nation’s health, not to mention health and social care services.


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on public health and social care topics, to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Some resources may only be available to Idox Information Service members.

Overcoming obesity: changing hearts and minds, IN Community Practitioner, Vol 87 No 3 Mar 2014, pp16-18

Process evaluation outcomes from a global child obesity prevention intervention, IN BMC Public Health, Vol 14 No 757 2014

The inactivity time bomb: the economic cost of physical inactivity in young people (CEBR, 2014)

Preventing child obesity: a long-term evaluation of the HENRY approach, IN Community Practitioner, Vol 83 No 7 Jul 2013, pp23-27

Is obesity a child protection issue?, IN Community Care, No 1833 2 Sep 2010, pp16-17

What’s preventing health and social care from going digital?

Two women using a tablet computer.

Image by Innovate 360. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons.

By Steven McGinty

In the first of two articles focusing on technology in health and social care, I will be looking at some of the barriers organisations face in adopting digital technologies. Financial pressures such as the reduction in public spending, as well as an ageing society, mean that health and social care will be expected to meet greater levels of demand with fewer resources.

The UK Government believes that the implementation of technology is the solution to helping the health and social care system become more efficient and more effective at delivering patient care. However, before health and social care can reap the benefits of technology, a number of barriers have to be broken down.

Information sharing challenges

Integration has been a main focus of health and social care in England, as well as the devolved administrations. If integration is to work successfully, different organisations must be able to share data securely. At the moment, data is recorded in a variety of ways across a number of different IT systems. We also have a situation where the main method for sharing data securely in local authorities, the Public Services Network (PSN), is not fully integrated with either the NHS in Scotland or England. Eddie Copeland, of the Policy Exchange, suggests that full integration of the NHS with the PSN should be seen as a priority.

Financial costs

The financial costs of rolling out new technology within an organisation can be significant. These costs can include the procurement of hardware and software, internet connections, and the training of staff. For organisations which are undergoing major budgets cuts, it may seem very difficult to justify the investment in technologies, even if there is the potential for savings in the future.

Management issues

The importance of technology in organisations can be underestimated by decision-makers. For example, according to Martin Ferguson, Director of the Society of IT Management (Socitm), the ICT challenges involved in introducing the new Care Act in England are not being given enough priority. He highlights that if organisations are unable to share information safely by April 2015, they risk failing to comply with new reporting regulations.

Local authorities can also have policies that restrict the use of technology. A recent Skills for Care report into the digital capabilities of social care found that local authorities are still wary of certain technologies, including cloud based systems, which can offer low-cost solutions, and social media, which can lead to savings for local authorities if used correctly.

The health and social care workforce

The Skills for Care report highlights that over 95% of staff feel they are confident in basic online skills. However less than a quarter of managers believe that they have staff with enough skills to make use of digital technology. This mismatch means that managers may be hesitant to introduce new technologies over fears that staff may have difficulties in using the technology, as well as the costs associated with staff training.

There is also a suggestion that social care staff may be resistant to the introduction of new technologies, due to concerns that introducing technology may over-complicate things and move the focus away from the patient. As we noted in a recent article on digital services within government, a key part of introducing any new technology is changing the mindset of staff and having effective leadership in place to champion it.

These are just some of the challenges associated with introducing digital technologies into health and social care. In a future article, we will look more at how technologies can be used within health and social care and the benefits they can bring to organisations. We also look at a case study of an innovative technology partnership between Calderdale Council and Idox, which is addressing the shared services agenda in social care.


Further reading:

 

Why resilience matters for social workers

By Heather Cameron

A recent storyline in the BBC’s Silent Witness programme graphically illustrated the emotional pressures that social workers operate under. Troublingly, this was not a case of dramatic license. Stress is damaging the ability of a significant number of social workers to do their job. This is often compounded by a lack of workplace support, particularly with regard to difficult cases such as child abuse.

In a recent Community Care survey of more than 2,000 frontline staff and managers, more than 80% of social workers felt stress is affecting their ability to do their job.

A third were trying to cope with stress by using alcohol, while 17% are using prescription drugs such as anti-depressants. Despite almost all respondents (97%) stating they were moderately or very stressed, only 16% said they had received any training or guidance on how to deal with work-related stress, and less than a third had been offered access to workplace counselling.

Social workers need high levels of confidence and resilience when dealing with safeguarding issues. And these are worrying findings, given the serious emotional impact more challenging cases can have.

Lack of support

New research for the NSPCC in six local authorities, highlights that social workers are finding it difficult to deal with the emotional impact of child sex abuse cases.

Adequate support and supervision is key to moderating the negative impacts of stress and burnout. The Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) – introduced in September 2012 – provides a support framework for newly qualified social workers. However, the research found supervision for experienced social workers continues to still be lacking, with many having to find their own informal support networks.

With reports on child abuse a regular occurrence in the media, the public pressure on social workers and other professionals involved in such cases is unlikely to subside. It’s even been suggested that politicians and the press have a common agenda in presenting ‘bad stories’ about social work to the public.

So what can be done?

With nearly 1 in 10 social workers considering leaving their jobs, its clear that addressing stress is a priority. But they are working in an environment where local authority budgets are being cut and the numbers of children subject to child protection plans increased by 12% between March 2013 and March 2014.

Back in 2009 the Laming Report emphasised the need for social workers to “develop the emotional resilience to manage the challenges they will face when dealing with potentially difficult families”. Research at the University of Bedfordshire has explored what resilience means in practice, and how individual resilience can be improved. It suggests that resilience can be learned, and is supported by reflective practice and self-awareness.

Active listening by line managers or supervisors can be an effective tool for identifying and dealing with the onset of stress within their team. And qualitative research in Scotland suggested that with the right support, social workers can retain the sense that their work is worthwhile and satisfying.

Let’s hope that Community Care’s next annual survey of social workers will show an improvement in work-related stress.


 

Further reading

Some resources may only be available to Idox Information Service members.

‘Heads must roll’? Emotional politics, the press and the death of Baby P, IN British Journal of Social Work, Vol 44 No 6 Sep 2014, pp1637-1653

Social Work Watch: inside an average day in social work – how social work staff support and protect people, against all the odds (2014). Unison

‘Bouncing back?’ personal representations of resilience of student and experienced social workers, IN Practice: Social Work in Action, Vol 25 No 5 Dec 2013

Inquiry into the state of social work report (2013). British Association of Social Workers

Low-level child neglect is a high-stakes issue

Upset boy against a wall

Guest blog by Emily Buchanan, Research Manager, NFER

Earlier this year, an Action for Children report highlighted that neglect is the most common form of child abuse in the UK today.

Up to one in 10 children across the UK suffers from neglect; it is the most frequent reason for a child protection referral, and it features in 60 per cent of serious case reviews into the death or serious injury of a child. So, how is our research seeking to support those tirelessly campaigning to end child neglect? Continue reading

The quest to find young carers: Carers Week 2014

Cooking Togetherby Steven McGinty

This week, throughout the UK, there will be a host of events in support of Carers Week 2014. For the first time, the UK-wide annual awareness campaign is launching the Carers Week Quest, a new initiative to encourage improved collaborative working in local communities to reach out to carers.  It will also be the first time that the valuable role of #youngcarers is recognised, with the introduction of Young Carers Awareness Day on Friday. The theme for this year is ‘identifying carers’.  It is hoped that this week of events can help carers access the support they need, when they need it.  In support of #carersweek, Idox has decided to review the literature on young carers. Continue reading