‘Cuts causing stress and long term sickness, social workers tell survey’, ‘social worker suspended for safeguarding failure amid environment of low morale’, and ‘councils wasting resources on social work assessments, report finds’ recent headlines, indicating an environment you wouldn’t likely find a happy bunch (what is the correct pronoun for a gang of social workers?!) of practitioners. As a student this has been my one main concern about entering the profession. And I am entirely sure, that that is the case in many authorities.
However, I am delighted to be able to report, that this is not the case everywhere. The authority I am currently on placement (over half-way through final year placement woo hoo!) in is far from harbouring a bunch of sour, overwork, over stressed, under resourced, under valued employees.
I am in a settled team which hasn’t had a vacancy in forever, there’s a mix of ages, some with 20-years experience, some been at it for 5 or 6 years. They are all so very different in their approaches. And it works well together. There is no bitchiness. They ask each other’s advice and workloads are split evenly. Supervision takes place regularly, and seniors are available to approach for case advice whenever it is needed. Managers send ‘thank you’ emails at the end of a busy day. And there is a tea kitty, brekkie Friday, and always cake!
It's not just a fluke.
As part of my induction I spent time in other teams at the same authority. In the CiN team, there is such a good morale. People sharing their lunches when the duty worker literally can’t stop to catch a breath and grab a butty. People asking ‘is there anything I can do to help’ and genuinely meaning it. Managers available, and approachable. There is laughter and joking.
The Edge of Care team are so passionate about keeping children out of care, I could have listened to the manager talk all day long about her team. The skill and knowledge they have, I can only hope to develop a smidgen of someday.
The EDT senior social worker was excited to start a shift and share with me the positives of the job.
Across all of the teams I spent time with, only 1 comment about reconsidering social work, which came from a very experienced social worker, who later on also said its not all that bad and they surely wouldn’t have stayed this long if it was!
And from my lowly view, as a student, this is why.
Managers and supervisors, right through to senior managers and above are visible and available. One day early on in placement, I was sat with a colleague observing her work, and a senior manager came and sat with us, introduced herself, asked about me, how I was finding the placement so far, told me if I needed anything to get in touch. A senior manager inviting me to contact her! Now, I have worked for this same authority before, in a different department, and lets just say the management style is the opposite end of the spectrum, so this openness and availability was news to me!
There is excellent informal and formal supervision alongside professional development sessions. These nurture new social workers, who glean knowledge from more experienced staff, and develop an environment in which you can ask openly when you don’t know, without fear of ridicule. At one such peer development session, a very experienced social worker presented a case and asked for advice as she was at a cross roads and didn’t know which way to take it. This openness, this honesty, its refreshing. And ultimately it is safe practice.
The authority has had good Ofsted ratings and this might explain (or be because of) some of the attitude of the staff. But this in itself brings extra pressure, because then you have to maintain that level, because dropping it just isn’t on the radar!
My first statement might have been misleading actually. I don’t want to paint an inaccurate picture that everyone is happy, that there are low case loads, that social workers are not stressing about their work, because that’s not true. In this authority, as I’m sure many others, referrals are increasing month on month, and numbers of children on protection plans are increasing, as are the numbers in care. Social workers are over worked and under resourced.
But, they are not undervalued.
And that means a lot.
Contributed by Kirsty Swift, student social worker.
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