When caseloads are already ‘hard to manage’, how will social workers cope with the coronavirus challenge?
It’s great to hear that social workers are being recognised for the valuable work they’re doing and the role they’re playing during the current emergency. At Pertemps Professional Recruitment, we’re acutely aware how seriously social workers take their responsibilities. They tell us that they’re ‘compelled’ to do this work, and others describe it as a ‘vocation’ rather than a career. We know it’s not unusual for people who are attracted to the profession to display high levels of empathy and take on the duties of advocate, motivator, helper, crusader – often all at the same time.
We are grateful for the fact that social workers are personally invested in what they do and we should also try to understand what they’re going through: “a sense of control is incredibly important for humans,” Dr Punit Shah, a psychologist at the University of Bath told the BBC yesterday. Even under normal circumstances, this is difficult for social workers because they take on cases as the need arises. No matter what they’re juggling, complex cases don’t hold back and because social workers are personally invested, they don’t give up without a fight. Instead, the working day gets longer as people try to keep up.
Caseload survey results 'a cause for concern'
Essentially, many social workers are just about coping most of the time. Early last month, Community Care conducted a survey of around 800 children’s practitioners working for local authorities or children’s services trusts in England. The results are ‘a cause for concern’, with almost three out of four (72%) of respondents finding their caseloads ‘difficult’. For 23%, their workload was ‘completely unmanageable’, and 49% described it as ‘hard to manage’: hardly ideal, especially at a time when COVID-19 was just about to hit.
More vulnerable than ever
Among the current discussion about the challenges of social distancing and home schooling are serious concerns about the people behind social work’s ‘hard to manage’ workload. Colum Conway, chief executive of Social Work England acknowledges: “people who need support in our society are more vulnerable than ever right now.” And yet we know the government has struggled with the logistics of the provision of personal protective equipment, and we know that The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has recommended minimal home visits during the pandemic. Social workers must be feeling like their hands are tied behind their backs.
The coronavirus outbreak has created a perfect storm for a profession where workers routinely add to their workload and frequently aim for the impossible. They will worry that they’re not able to do their job and will be anxious about putting their clients – and their professional registration – at risk. Regulators, professional bodies, managers and supervisors need to reassure these key workers that when systemic failings are highlighted by the current emergency, the social worker is not solely responsible. Maintaining contact among team members and offering support when they are experiencing exceptional pressure may help with this. It certainly won’t eradicate the risks faced by vulnerable service users, but it might make life a little more bearable on the front line.
Pertemps Professional Recruitment places social workers within public and private organisations throughout the UK. We’re proud of our reputation for high standards and empathetic approach towards our workers and the employers we introduce them to.
We never lose sight of what really matters: providing outstanding service to our candidates and clients who provide help to society’s most vulnerable children and adults. We know that our workers often experience tough and challenging circumstances, and we’re aware that the coronavirus outbreak is making this harder than ever.