A report in the Irish Times neatly summarises research led by Prof. Bairbre Redmond of University College Dublin.
The study identifies high rates of stress among social workers.
Although high levels of personal commitment were found, burnout also occurred, especially among children’s social workers. This involved chronic stress, exhaustion, and depersonalisation. The effect of violence and aggression from families was an important factor in some cases.
However, the respondents wanted greater autonomy in decision-making. They were increasingly burdened with administrative work and found they had less time to spend with children and families. There was less scope for professional practice and more pressure to be efficient.
Many social workers described the system as “dysfunctional”.
I think this research points to the twin evils that many child protection social workers face. On the one hand they encounter the sheer difficulty of building constructive relationships with people who may be suspicious, angry, hostile and even violent. On the other hand their ability to meet complex needs is constrained by systems, regulations and procedures that are often unmanageable and invariably dispiriting.