Saturday, 25 March 2017

Administrative Support for Child Protection Social Work

In the 1970s and 1980s social workers had more administrative support. I remember that in one job just one colleague and I shared a full-time secretary. I can still remember her bashing out my court reports on an elderly Imperial manual typewriter. We dictated our records into tape machines and she typed them up too. She also answered all incoming phone calls, booked appointments and dealt with callers if we were out of the building. I can’t say I ever found administration easy, but this arrangement made it very tolerable.
In recent times, it has become the norm in Britain for children’s social workers to provide much of their own administrative support. Records and reports are typed by social workers directly into computers. Correspondence, appointments, statistical returns and routine administration are often also the responsibility of practitioners. In 2009 researchers from Loughborough University [1] noted an increase in administrative and indirect activities undertaken by social workers and a shortage of administrative support. Other surveys have produced similar findings [2].

Most people who go into children’s social work do so because they want to work with people, not to do paperwork, computer work and other administration. Conceiving the social worker’s task primarily in administrative terms, as the architects of the Integrated Children’s System did [3], is a tragic mistake, which has untold negative ramifications for employee-motivation, organisational morale and the safety and quality of services.

So, it is music to my ears that the lessons of the past appear to be being learned, at least in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. There an experiment has been undertaken with highly skilled administrators or PAs being assigned to social workers in a ratio of three social workers to one PA. [4]

This is said to have resulted in a decrease in the time social workers spend on administrative tasks (from 36% to 14%) and an increase in the time they spend with children and families (from 34% to 58%). It is also reported that there has been more than an 80% reduction in short-term staff sickness and decreases in stress levels experienced by social workers. The overall team environment is said to have improved. Not only that but the researchers conclude that providing social workers with PAs is very cost effective. They calculate that there are notional savings of about £9,000 per social worker because of reductions in unproductive time spent in undertaking inappropriate administrative tasks. It is argued that these savings are likely to increase over time because of lower rates of staff sickness absence and improved retention of social workers.

It is always gratifying when it turns out that doing things in the best way is also the most cost effective way. Children’s services managers should be learning from this research, not only taking on board its specific findings, but also embracing an overall approach which focuses on exploring how jobs like children’s social worker can be designed to make it easier for those who do them to do them well.


[1] Lisa Holmes, Samantha McDermid, Anna Jones and Harriet Ward. “How Social Workers Spend Their Time: An Analysis of the Key Issues that Impact on Practice pre- and post Implementation of the Integrated Children’s System” Department for Children, Schools and Families. Research Report DCSF-RR087 2009.

[2] See for example reports of the survey conducted by the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers in 2012:

[3] Sue White, David Wastell, Karen Broadhurst and Chris Hall, “When policy o’erleaps itself: The ‘tragic tale’ of the Integrated Children’s System”, Critical Social Policy, July 29, 2010,

[4] Katy Burch, Colin Green, Steve Merrell, Viv Taylor and Sue Wise, “Social Care
Innovations in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Evaluation Report” March 2017
Department for Education, Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme Evaluation Report no. 23