Social workers most stressed after first year in job, research finds

By Dan Parton

| 13 August 2019

Children's social workers in their second and third years in the role are the most stressed, with more than two thirds reporting concerns over stress levels, new research has revealed.

Social workers cited excessive paperwork as the most common cause of stress at work. Picture: Avava/Adobe Stock

The Longitudinal Study of Local Authority Child and Family Social Workers (Wave 1) commissioned by the Department for Education, found that 70 per cent of children and family social workers in the second and third years of their career admitted feeling stressed, compared with the average across the profession of 51 per cent.

The study found that the major causes of stress among social workers were workload being too high (51 per cent) and feeling they were being asked to fulfil too many different roles in their job (47 per cent).

However, agreement with each statement peaked among those who had been in the profession for two to three years.

The research also found that some social workers began to feel less positive about the role once they moved out of the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) and encountered more of the "reality" of the job in terms of workload pressures and paperwork.

The research concluded that there is a need to explore how to better support the transition out of ASYE into experienced practitioner roles in order to support retention and develop resilience.

Overall, the most common cause of stress at work was too much paperwork - cited by 68 per cent of respondents. This was followed by having too many cases (50 per cent), insufficient time for direct work with children and families (44 per cent), working culture/practices (42 per cent), and lack of resources to support families (36 per cent).

By practice area, social workers working in health and in child in need/child protection work were the most stressed, with 56 per cent of those working in both disciplines admitting to feeling stressed.

With this in mind, the report concludes there is a need to explore ways to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy.

However, 74 percent of social workers agreed they found their job satisfying, with just 11 per cent disagreeing. The most satisfying aspects of the job were having scope to use their own initiative (cited by 84 per cent) and the sense of achievement they get from their work (83 per cent).

Frontline practitioners who had been in child and family social work for two to three years tended to be less satisfied on a range of measures - again highlighting how much of a crucial time it is for professionals.

Only 54 per cent of social workers said they felt valued by their employer. While increased time spent with an organisation, and better Ofsted rating, were both positively associated with feeling loyal to their employer, they were negatively associated with the extent to which social workers felt valued.

With this in mind, 11 per cent of respondents said they planned to move out of the sector and/or profession, including moving into other areas of social work.

High caseload was the most common reason cited for wanting to leave - 30 per cent - followed by the amount of paperwork (28 per cent) and general working hours (24 per cent).

Rachel Dickinson, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said it was encouraging that most of the respondents feel satisfied by their job and plan to stay in child and family social work for the next 12 months.

"We know job satisfaction is fundamental to retention and that the children and families we work with value continuity in their social worker. It is positive that over half of the social workers surveyed feel valued by their employer, that some don't is concerning. It is important to us that social workers feel valued, well supported in their role and have manageable workloads so that they can spend more time with children and families making positive and enduring changes in their lives.

"We continue to be concerned that we are not recruiting and retaining enough social workers nationally. Local authorities are using their limited resources to encourage more people to choose social work as a career and to make them want to stay but a national recruitment and retention campaign, funded by the Department for Education, which clearly articulates that good social work can and does change lives would undoubtedly help with this endeavour."

blog comments powered by Disqus