The Life Cycle of a Social Worker

When you qualify as a social worker, you have no clue how little actual face to face work you will do.

You imagine yourself supporting vulnerable people & working with them to improve their quality of life. 

You start your career, full of enthusiasm and energy. You have all this knowledge bouncing around in your head and you’re desperate to get out there and start making a difference.

Instead, you sit at your computer, repetitively completing assessments and forms and reports and plans.

You review your cases constantly. Have you done everything you were meant to do? Are the child protection plans in place? Are they robust? Have you covered all angles? Are the children safe? Are they SAFE?

You attempt (and fail) to liaise with other agencies. Agencies who have vital information about your cases. Medics, health visitors, teachers, youth workers, probation officers. No one returns your calls, no one is ever at their desk. So you sit at your own desk, on the phone, typing with your other hand. Well, it’s not quite your own desk. You have to hot desk because most of the buildings have been sold off by the Local Authority. They needed the money due to Government cuts. So there’s is a hot desking policy in place. In reality, this means, if you don’t get into the office by 7.30am, you don’t get a desk. 

Your phone never stops ringing, your cases pile up. Other social workers in your team, and other teams, go off sick. You have to cover their work because there’s no money to get more staff in. Your Local Authority has cut its social care budget again so you can’t even get agency social workers in to help out. The team is at breaking point. Cases continue to be referred. The referrals that come in document the worst abuse, suspected abuse and significant concerns about any number of children and families. Who is going to take these new cases? Someone has to.

You sit in traffic, constantly late for meetings. Always running behind, always trying to get ahead – and failing. You feel anxious, frustrated & stressed. It gnaws away at your stomach all the time. 

You know you need to spend time with the children on your caseload but you haven’t got the time. They won’t disclose anything as you rush through your visit.

You have nearly 40 cases, each with a number of children in the family. How can you see them all? Speak to them? Make time for them?

You can’t. So you do the best you can. You stay late, accruing more & more toil that you will never get back. Working til 10pm, working weekends. You lie awake at night, thinking, worrying, trying to remember everything.

Supervision comes around. You should have it monthly but your manager has been too busy. You’ve not had any for three months now.

You want to raise your concerns about unsafe practice, high case loads, unmanageable work, lack of staff & lack of resources to do the job.

Your manager wants to check that you’ve completed the right paperwork, your targets have been met, that national standards have been met.

Your manager doesn’t want to hear your concerns because there’s nothing they can do about it. It’s just the way it is. There’s no money to invest in staff training, there’s no money to employ more social workers to ease the workload, there’s no money, full stop.

So you carry on. You work harder & longer, trying to make sure that safeguarding is in place. You’re so tired.

Eventually, managing so many cases, so many incidents of sexual abuse, neglect & physical abuse with little support takes it’s toll.

You go off sick. You feel guilty. You’re letting people down & putting pressure on the few remaining staff, but you just can’t cope anymore.

A newly qualified social worker joins the team, full of energy & enthusiasm. They wonder why everyone is off sick.

So it begins again.

5 replies on “The Life Cycle of a Social Worker”

So depressingly accurate! As a SW now working on the ‘outside’ I see the effects on colleagues AND service users every day. You miss out only the but where the focus on form filling and box ticking slowly leads you and the families you work with to question your humanity!

Thank you
Being a social worker is deeply shit and stressful now but as a fellow socila worker(in mental health) you have made me feel very slightly less alone and scared and stressed-you and heavy duty drugs haha
We are all brothers and sisters
(pity the students because the universities don’t tell them anything)
(may tory governments be dammed forever)

This resonates with why I left social work as an AMHP/hospital social worker when going into work resembled going into a combat zone!! Would’ve had at least 6 good years to work but was totally burnt out.

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