Thursday, 30 June 2011

Unmanageable Caseloads

Children and Young People Now report on research by the Children's Workforce Development Council that found that social workers in 57 English local authorities are dealing with between 20 and 30 cases at a time. In six authorities average caseloads exceed 30. The report also found significant levels of vacancy and agency working.

We need to remember that when we say "20 cases" this will always involve more than 20 children, since most families have more than one child. So many social workers are dealing with say between 30 and 40 children at any one time. That’s a lot of children to be concerned about and to keep track of.

Just consider home visiting, an absolutely essential part of working with children who are at risk. Most workers will be lucky to be able to conduct three home visits in a day and I expect that the average is about two. If you allow for a two hour meeting and one hour’s travelling time, that leaves just 30 minutes to write up the visit – and then half a day has been used up. So with a caseload of 30 it would take 15 working days to visit all the families – one home visit every three weeks.

But that does not allow for the fact that the social worker will be involved in other time consuming things as well. There will be meetings, child protection conferences and court hearings. Not to mention training. And then there is the administration! Some estimates say that more than 60% of a child protection social worker's time is absorbed in administration.

So it is not surprising that quite a lot of vulnerable children are not receiving frequent visiting from their social workers: monthly or even worse. And it is not surprising that social workers are often overtaken by events and fail to spot significant changes in children’s circumstances. In fact their workloads make it very likely, if not inevitable.