Lower caseloads and properly fund services, professionals tell Care Review

The Review of Children’s Social Care in England has published a summary of its engagement with social workers and other professionals.

06/04/22

Lower caseloads and properly fund services, professionals tell Care Review

Social workers and other professionals have told the Care Review that rising caseloads are a major problem in their work, saying lower caseloads would allow them more time to work effectively with families and build trusting relationships.

“When caseloads are above 15, in my opinion, no quality work can be done with young people or their families meaning the best possible outcomes cannot be achieved,” one social worker told the review.

Releasing a summary of responses it had to its engagement events since the publication of its Case for Change, the Care Review said social workers told them that high turnover rates as a consequence of high caseloads was a key problem, alongside high stress, and a lack of mental health support for social workers.

“We carry a lot of vicarious trauma, social workers need personal supervision and reflection rather than just case supervision. Targeted support. Independent Fostering Agencies have therapeutic support but that’s dropped off since COVID-19,” one social worker said.

“If I had a magic wand, I would look to better retain staff and get the right plan in place to transition children. Every complaint starts with ‘I have a new social worker’,” said one local authority staff member.

Social worker retention was challenged by a lack of professional development that did not involve a move to management and therefore a move away from working directly with children and families. “Social work is a profession where the only way to progress is away from direct practice,” one social worker told the review, adding: “We shouldn’t stop working with families.”

A majority of professionals told the review that they thought that children’s services are underfunded as a consequence of diminishing government funding for local authorities.

“Local authorities are underfunded. Other departments have shrunk, and we have stayed broadly the same,” one Director of Children’s Services said.

Resources were said to be misplaced, with some calling for more funding for preventative services which have been cut over the years.

Another issue raised by professionals was the bureaucracy plaguing social work, with inspections and subsequent aversion to risk seen as a big driver for this. Social workers were said to have recognised the need for detailed record-keeping but felt that administrative tasks were causing an inability to offer meaningful intervention and support to families.

“We don’t put half of the time on what went right and increase that. We focus more on what went wrong and avoiding it next time,” one social worker said, adding: “Appreciate what we do, rather than what we haven’t done.”

Another suggested: “Less paperwork, meetings and less emails. Less recording on the systems, more business support officers that do the recording for the social worker so they can focus on seeing the families. Being able to spend more time with families and children will in turn reduce the risk aversion.”

There were calls for more administrators and family support workers to provide business support to free up social workers’ time. Social workers also spoke about the need for streamlining processes and employing smarter working like self-populating forms and the use of technology to reduce duplication of work.

“We could streamline how much detail is recorded… What my young people appreciate is the time that I spent with them outside the review meetings,” one social worker told the review.

Ethnic and racial disparities were said to be a ‘cross-cutting theme’ both for children, families and carers involved in the care system, and for professionals themselves. Professionals said that the needs of Black, Asian and ethnic minority children are often an ‘afterthought’, and that it can be difficult getting white social workers to understand the children’s different needs, particularly when it comes to the matching process for children entering care.

Respondents also said that help is needed to ensure social workers, and other professionals, understand cultural differences and are better equipped to explain to families what they are doing and why.

“There needs to be a more diverse choice of foster placements to cater to children’s cultural, physical, and emotional needs,” one social worker responded.

Some suggested that having specialist ‘cultural advisors’ or teams for children in care, particularly those in foster care, could help ensure the needs of children from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds were being met. “I might not know the cultural backgrounds of other ethnicities and I might research, but you need someone who is aware of those cultures. I think there should be a role, could be someone who knows, can represent and champion [the children],” one social worker said.

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