Emergency Duty Team – Social Work in the wee hours!

"The Friday Night Lights of Social Work"

Do you need a social worker outside of 09:00 – 17:00, Monday to Friday? Well then, you need an emergency duty team social worker! But hang on, as always, we still don’t have that magic wand.

There are varying models of delivery across the country, but I’ll tell you about mine. I must begin by highlighting that the word “team” gives the impression that there is a plethora of staff who are poised to respond immediately, to any social care emergency; vulnerable children and families, vulnerable adults, requests under the Mental Health Act, appropriate adult requests for children and young people and vulnerable adults in custody, and people who present as homeless out of hours. Not to mention everything in between – contact issues, requests for advice from care providers and even the odd complaint about your bin not being emptied (I kid you not!)

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Yes, we do have to respond to all of these matters, but with just one social worker and the most limited of resources imaginable for the ENTIRE authority. ONE PERSON.


Let that sink in, for a sec.

There’s a common misconception that we have services that are ring fenced specifically for emergencies. This couldn’t be further from the truth and in reality, the resource you get is me. I’d consider it old school, hands on social work. I feel that I can proudly say that, eight out of ten times, my intervention in isolation is enough. How amazing is that?

The demand on Local Authority Social Work Departments doesn’t sleep. See below for a typical spectrum of demands that you could be facing within hours of starting a shift.

Consider this; what would you do?

You have a referral from police who have attended an address where a 14 year old has assaulted their mother. The police are not going to criminalise the young person, but the parents are refusing to allow her to stay and requesting she go into care. Police are supporting this request.

We have a request for a community Mental Health Act assessment from the Crisis Team. A male with Schizophrenia who has relapsed. He is experiencing distressing voices, believes his neighbours are conspiring to kill him and has knives strewn in the home to protect himself. He has a cat and dog that will need accommodating should he be detained under the Act.

A foster carer has called in crisis. A young person in their care is being verbally abusive and destructive. They have attachment disorder. The foster carer is requesting the young person is placed elsewhere immediately, as they’re struggling to cope.

We have a request from custody to be present and act as Appropriate Adult for a vulnerable adult who has been accused of rape. He has learning disabilities. There is only four hours left on the custody clock to interview him.

We have received a call from a concerned grandmother who has been made aware that her grandchildren are at risk. Their mother has her ex-partner at the address who has previously been investigated for possessing indecent images of children. He served time in prison. The children’s mother has a borderline learning disability.

We receive a call from A&E regarding a non-mobile baby who has a twist fracture to the leg and in pain. The parents have offered inconsistent accounts and are being obstructive, wanting to remove the child from hospital.

We receive a call from the ambulance service to an address of an older person who has fallen at home and pressed her life line. She has not eaten for two days, not able to care for herself and in need of respite.

What do you respond to first, and why?

Imagine having all of that knowledge, legal frameworks, consideration of service provision, and dynamic risks depending on the service user group. You’ve no idea how the brain burns whilst simultaneously straddling all those areas of the brain!

Having been a community social worker for years before my time in EDT, working across children’s, adult and mental health services, I understand that managing cases feels like a daily impossible task and leaving you feeling like you don’t even have your whole head, but barely a nostril above water.

We have pressure and expectation from every other agency to have the answer to all social problems and manage all the risks present within people’s lives.

Please spare a thought for your EDT Social Worker when you casually say “If there’s any emergency outside of office hours, call EDT” without a caveat of expectation of what we can do, because when in crisis the expectation bar is high. We are often working blindly and relying on your case recordings to try and get a measure of the risks, needs and issues and make the best decision that we can to ensure the service user is safe until the next working day or we use the legal frameworks at our disposal to protect or invoke action.

We have a range of knowledge across the Children Act 1989 (amended 2004) and related legislation, Care Act 2014, Mental Capacity Act 2005 (as amended 2007), Mental Health Act 1983 (as amended 2007), Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

The breadth of skill required to practice as an EDT Social Worker is immense and we work with a high degree of autonomy, often in isolation. We work closely with our multi-agency colleagues and at times, these conversations can be contentious and heated as we manage the expectations of services and the public. That said, working openly, honestly and transparently always pays dividends. We don’t always have all the answers and it doesn’t always mean the social services are the answer to the dilemma either.

I hope that despite the face palm of the notification from EDT you get in your work tray, that you can understand that we don’t get an easy ride in our job either. We do our very best don’t forget that what you have at your disposal during day time, broadly, we could only dream of. The dynamic, level, nature of response and responsibility carried out of hours can’t be compared with that of day time response and I hope this goes a way to help our colleagues understand why.

Writing this fresh from a shift last night, where I finished two and a half hours later than I should have, as most social workers do, I feel a sense of pride in the work that I do.

Contributed by an anonymous EDT Social Worker.  

While you're here...

Working in an Emergency Duty Team requires intricate knowledge of a whole breadth of areas across social work, as the emergency situation could be anything. Luckily, our Resources Page has a whole range of useful tools to help continue to develop your practice across all topics, so that you are prepared for anything and ready to support whichever vulnerable person needs your assistance. 

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