When I ask social workers what they love about their jobs, helping to improve the lives of children and their families always comes at the top of the list.
But all too often, social workers are burdened by administrative tasks when their time would be better spent out in the community, supporting the children in their care.
It seems that many practitioners would like to have more contact time with children and families. According to a 2014-2015 Social Work Survey, more than two thirds (69%) of frontline staff in social care feel that they do not spend enough face-to-face time with the people they support.
And if social workers are not able to do what they do best, their job satisfaction might suffer and the profession could be at higher risk of losing good staff.
But what can be done to cut the amount of time practitioners spend in administration?
One factor which may be contributing to the weight of administration is the growing number of caseloads. In the same survey, 66% of practitioners said that their personal caseload had increased in the past 12 months, and for 33%, the increase has been significant.
Each new case means more hours behind a desk, entering case notes onto the local authority’s computer system and making calls to schools, healthcare providers and the police to build a picture of the child’s situation.
If there were a way to cut the time spent in administration, it might help to move cases through the system more quickly and give social workers more freedom to get out and do the important work that they entered the profession to do – make a difference in the lives of children and families.
The big picture at a glance
The good news is that the technology exists for social workers to have all the information about a child at their fingertips, without the need to spend time on the phone or computer tracking down the key details.
It is now possible to bring a wealth of information from schools and other agencies together to create a holistic view of the child, which takes into account the different factors at play in their lives. By looking in just one place, a social worker could quickly see that the child has started missing school, a parent is attending a drug and alcohol programme or a member of the extended family has become involved with the criminal justice system, for example. They could also set up the system to alert them when a child’s situation changes, such as a new school or someone else living in the family home.
With details to hand of the other agencies in contact with the family, such as mental health, education and juvenile crime, it is far easier for social workers to find the information they need quickly. This could help make it easier for them to manage a heavy caseload and get support for the child or family to where it is needed.
Secure access to information on the move
It’s encouraging to see more effective tools becoming available that will simplify mobile working too. These are set to transform the way practitioners work. Case records could be updated and accessed, not only in the office but out in the community – and with a web-based system, the latest case notes could be available to all teams working with a family so that more informed decisions can be made, on the move.
The days of note-taking on paper or dropped signals causing issues for social workers out in the field could soon be a thing of the past. Advances in technology are changing the way social care practitioners work and supporting greater efficiency across teams to help keep children safe.
No one enters the social care profession to spend hours on administration. With the right systems in place, practitioners will have more time to focus on securing better outcomes for the children and families in their care. And with greater freedom to make a real difference where it counts, more of them could be encouraged to stay in the profession.