Two thirds of children's social workers want to leave current job, study finds

By Joe Lepper

| 26 October 2018

Working conditions for children's social workers have worsened over the last year, with two thirds wanting to leave their current job, it has emerged.

An increasing proportion of children's social workers want to leave their job. Picture: Adobe Stock

A survey of almost 2,000 (1,953) children social workers found that almost half (48 per cent) of children's social workers said they were dissatisfied at work, compared with 43 per cent last year.

Just under two thirds (62.3 per cent) said they want to leave their current job within the next 16 months, compared with 55 per cent last year. More than a third (37.6 per cent) in the 2018 survey said they are considering quitting social work.

Presenteeism, which is when employees turn up to work even though they are so unwell that they should be taking sick leave, is also up among children's social workers, from 64 per cent last year to 69 per cent in 2018.

The survey, carried out by Bath Spa University for the Social Work Union (SWU) and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) also found that that they believe the job has become more demanding, both in terms of the amount and complexity of work.

Meanwhile, they feel less in control at work and less involved in decision-making. And support from management has also worsened, and incidents of bullying and conflict with staff have increased.

The only two areas where social workers' satisfaction level has increased are support from their peers and colleagues and how well change, such as new structures and working practices, is communicated to them.

"In comparison to 2017 figures, 2018 working conditions are even worse - it would appear that over the past 12 months, working conditions have consistently worsened," a report on the findings of the survey states.

"Austerity and cuts to resources and other public-sector freezes are making the job role increasingly difficult."

The report says that current working conditions for social workers are "unacceptable" and for many is forcing them to either leave their current job or quit social work altogether. Poor conditions at work can also have a negative impact on their health, adds the research.

"Overall these results demonstrate that working conditions for UK social workers - irrespective of their job role - are unacceptable," states the report. 

"Indeed, the Health and Safety Executive suggest that should the working conditions measured in this study be at unacceptable levels for too long of a time period (i.e. they are chronic) then ill mental and/or physical health can occur."

"This is leaving children's social workers less satisfied, more likely to leave their current job and quit social work altogether."

The report also reveals the key improvements social workers want to see to working conditions.

Their top ask is for lowered caseloads, followed by co-working on difficult cases, recruiting more staff and having a fairer allocation of cases. They also want better IT systems and clear policies on violence and aggression.

The research found that nearly three quarters of children's social workers are exposed to "negative words" from service users or their families at least once a month.

One children's social worker in east London told the researchers: "Children's social work can feel like a very lonely and dispiriting place to work. Unmanageable caseloads, burdensome and repetitive procedures, clumsy IT systems and inadequate support makes me consider my future all the time.

"Every day me and my colleagues face the brunt of demand for services being at an all-time high, whilst workplace staffing and resources are at an unprecedented low - a perfect storm. This is the landscape that my colleagues and I are trying to survive in, every day I question my ability to keep going.

"I feel worse for the children though, their needs no longer come first. They experience multiple social workers because my colleagues across the region are unable to cope in this broken system. Something needs to change and the voice of the poor and those who are tasked with supporting them must be heard."

Social Workers Union general secretary John McGown added: "Positive working environments are necessary for social workers' psychological and physical welfare and to keep social workers in posts. If this is not addressed, then we will be facing a crisis - the government needs to listen."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Social workers do incredible work transforming the lives of vulnerable children, adults and families in their care, so it's important we attract and retain high-quality recruits to the profession.

"We expect councils to guarantee safe and manageable caseloads for social workers and we are helping to build resilience and support career development so social workers have the knowledge and skills to work effectively."

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