I work for a council Social Work department that is currently being ‘supported’ by an outside firm who have been brought in to help with our ‘transformation programme’.
This firm managed to save a lot of money for a council in a different area so, on the promise of ‘payment by results’, they have been brought in to do the same thing for us.
After a month of shadowing Social Workers and collecting data, they have come up with a plan that they promise will save money and increase production.
If they don’t save money, they don’t get paid.
The stress and pressure that this process is putting on already depleted teams is overbearing.
They’ve brought in weekly meetings where graphs are produced and targets that we must meet are discussed. If individuals aren’t meeting their allocated targets, they are taken aside and spoken to.
Those of us who are managing to meet targets are having to work until 8pm every night and most weekends just to keep our heads above water.
If by some miracle, a Social Worker has completed all the tasks they have been set for the week, they are still pulled up about something called their ‘throughput’ and told that they should be getting through more work. When you are in this vulnerable position it doesn’t help that your manager is telling you ‘other people are managing’ and uses the odd high-performing worker as a stick to beat the rest of us with.
Workshops have been set up for scrutinising cases. These workshops are used to monitor Social Workers and force us to answer questions like:
Have you used all available free services before looking at formal support?
Are you being risk-averse?
Is your assessment strengths based?
Are you undertaking the best practice you possibly can?
To support this new way of constantly working to targets as hard as we can, they have brought in new procedures for our admin staff. Our electronic calendars are now given to admin who are informed when we have new case allocations. They now look at your diary and book visits in your calendar without checking with you first. This is done under the guise of saving us time, but the reality is that it makes you feel like you’re not trusted or competent enough to manage your own workload.
That initial contact with people is vital to getting off to a good start with service users but this new system has ripped that out of our practice. Instead we have admin sending out letters telling people when we are visiting and just copying us Social Workers in.
If you dare forget to update your electronic calendar, it gets filled with visits for you.
There is no acceptance of the complex issues we deal with that take time to unravel, or the need to form good working relationships to bring about positive outcomes for people. Instead we are just told to ‘get through four assessments this week’ or ‘do these twenty tasks’.
This isn’t Social Work
When you are given tasks that need to be completed, they only include defined pieces of work such as assessments in your allotted time for the week. This means that travelling to visits, making telephone calls, completing referrals to other services and doing your own paperwork aren’t calculated as essential tasks. When this issue was raised, we were told ‘stop answering your phones whilst concentrating on finishing your tasks’.
Well how is that possible? How many calls do we have to take if we’re doing something like waiting for a placement to be found?
We need to be available, we need to be accountable and we need to be able to answer our phones. But in their wisdom, we are being asked by this firm to take on a new way of working by focusing on the ‘throughput’ of assessments and accredited outcomes.
This is all coming at a time where many people are having to reapply for their own jobs.
What is most upsetting is that there is nowhere in this whole ‘transformation programme’ where Social Workers or, more importantly, the people we support are being given a voice. We are paid lip-service by being included in the weekly performance workshops but, no matter what issues we raise, the blame always falls on Social Workers and our concerns are ignored.
I’m sorry to rant about all of this, but my best friend committed suicide due to work pressures a few years back and I can see other people who are so fragile around me at risk of going the same way.
We are all so desperate to do a good job and meet these targets, but the pressure this way of working brings is appalling.
If this is the future of Social Work, God help us all.
The Secret Social Worker
Every Sunday I publish a guest blog from a Secret Social Worker who wishes to share their story with the world. If you’d like to write an anonymous guest blog about life as a Social Worker, email me via: firstname.lastname@example.org