Mark Raeburn: 7.25 minute read

Show some love for Social Workers this Valentine’s Day

Social work is a rewarding career, but at the current time of writing, Valentine’s Day, it is also a stressful one. Whether it is caseloads that would break the back of even the hardiest of Donkeys or it is suffering from abuse, regardless of which, something needs to be done.

We are all human and deserve the right to come to work and go about our daily business in a manner that is supported. Social Workers continue with the knowledge that once the current caseload is finalised, they are always minutes from additional cases. It is the work equivalent of madness.

With caseloads increasing and stress levels rising we want to take a moment and acknowledge Social Workers in the current working climate. They work under immense pressure to help adults and children from across the country. They deal with a myriad of problems and never give up and neither will we. We will continue to create specialised software that supports the industry in the best way possible.

Whilst we are all thinking of our plans for the evening, whether that is a drink in the pub, a quiet meal at home or a party with friends lets spare a thought for those unsung heroes, Social Workers. 

A historical occupation

Social work can trace its origins back hundreds of years, going back to reforms that were designed to make life easier for the poor. In its modern form, we can trace its origins back to the 1948 National Assistance Act and the birth of the Welfare State. Before this, we can look back upon the Elizabethan Poor Law and the workhouse.

Coverage for some health services and unemployment support was established by the Liberal Government in 1906. This model of support was based upon that which was seen in Germany and Chancellor Bismarck. It proved to be a first step only and the need to establish a more coherent structure of care was acknowledged. This was championed by the Labour government of 1945 who embarked on a series of reforms which laid the foundations for the welfare state. The key parts of which remain in society today and as the Second World War came to an end, we entered into a period of pioneering change for good.

The NHS was introduced three years later and as it is today, was free of use, whereas, just like today, social care was to be means-tested. By this account, the last seventy years have seen little change to the overall delivery of health and social care services. This in one way is great as the core concept to ensure the health and wellbeing of the citizens of the United Kingdom has not changed. The NHS is still free but social care by the same token is still means-tested and seen as the ‘younger brother’ of the NHS.

They are still seen as separate entities, whereas we believe that they are two sides of the same coin. Money is continually invested within the NHS every year, which is arguably lost through delays in moving from health to residential care. This can be seen within the ongoing issue of Delayed Transfers of Care. Delays in moving elderly patients into residential care cost the NHS nearly £1billion pounds per year. This is only one of the problems that both the healthcare service and social care deal with on a daily basis.

Problems such as these are intensifying each year and people are getting increasingly frustrated and as of yet, the government has not published a plan for social care. They are content to pour money into the NHS that will ultimately be wasted when looking at both of them together is what is needed. Stressed workers who receive abuse during the course of their day should be able to reduce their workloads to a more manageable level and spend time who those who need assistance.                                 

Retention Levels

“All councils should set up a system of monitoring to reduce demands on already over-worked staff. Otherwise, not only Social Workers but those they’re trying to help will suffer.”

In 2016 Unison conducted research alongside Community Care into what a typical day for a Social Worker looks like. More than 2,000 workers responded and the feedback didn’t paint a pretty picture. 80% of those who responded reported that they had suffered emotional distress, with half of these reporting that they had been verbally abused. These numbers had increased from the previous report and we can only imagine that another report would showcase increased figures yet again.

“I left work feeling completely drained and emotional. I wasn’t able to do anything productive in the evening and spent most of it crying.”

The quote above was included within the report and emphasises how dark the situation looked three years ago and we dread to think what the report would look like if ran again. It is something that has a breaking point. Much like other frontline services, the people behind the scenes can only take so much. We are human and deserve the right to work in a safe environment and it is something that has come harder and harder to deliver within frontline public services. They are overworked and emotionally drained.

What can be done?

Additional numbers of staff are required to balance out the workload but in a way that is only a temporary solution. ECLIPSE is looking to provide managers with key insights to ensure none of their team is unfairly overworked. Not only can managers see how many people each person is working with, but crucially the amount of work related to those cases.

If you funnel more Social Workers into the system and they end up finding a lack of support and increasing workloads then they will follow suit with those we speak about today. The system needs more members of staff but where they are allocated is key.

We attended a webinar last month that was looking at children’s social care in a different way. A way that was described as ‘radical’. It revolved around placing children at the centre of the system in order to put them first as they were surrounded by Social Workers teams, who were in turn supported by dedicated teams. These additional teams were designed to take the pressure off of the Social Workers when it came to administrative burden and data.  

It is a great idea in theory but as we all know, until it is put into the field and tested, no one knows how it will fare. What we do know is that change is required and if re-deploying your workers to operate in a new manner to save time that can then be used with families, then it is a change worth investigating.

A shortfall within this new model of Social Work practice and others that have appeared over the years is that current technology solutions cannot support them in the manner that they need to be. This is systematic across health and social care in that legacy systems still dominate the landscape. Budget cuts and the need to prioritise day-to-day operations have been the dominate reasons as to why investments have been slow, despite the arrival of Digital 2020.

Will the government assist?

We are sure that there will be small cash injections but with the recent announcement from Boris Johnson that a plan for social care could still be five years away, the hopes of a joined-up system with the NHS need to once again be shelved. This is a shame but it is not unexpected, going back to the ADASS Conference from last year and calls for local authorities to be empowered and do it themselves. The message is clear. You should not wait for the government to step in.

We believe that the answers are out there and local authorities and their healthcare partners need to be brave. Working together to share resources to tackle common problems and deliver efficiencies that save time, money and give people stability is what we are looking for. However, we have our doubts as to whether the government will assist and help create these much-needed changes.

We need to help ourselves but where to begin? Efficiencies are out there to be created much like those seen with:

Creating connections between the NHS and social care are essential and organisations need to be brave and seek out solutions that bring to life savings. These are what is required to reverse the trends of stress, overwork and reduced time with those who are most vulnerable. Technology can assist with the process of change.

How we can help

Since we have been in operation, we have created savings for hundreds of organisations across the country and within multiple sectors. It is something that we are immensely proud of and believe that we have the knowledge required to create time savings for overworked social care teams. They work long hours under increasing levels of stress and need a helping hand with the system guiding them to the next stage in the plan.

We saw the need for a new generation of technology in the run-up to Digital 2020 and invested in our award-winning ECLIPSE Software and Services Platform. The main purpose of ECLIPSE was to give time back to Social Workers and health teams across the country and to enable multi-agency working within a secure platform. It is something that we can safely say has been a rousing success, with more than 27,000 users signed up and reaping the benefits, with 15 ECLIPSE go-lives last year.

Upgrades within ECLIPSE can be delivered simultaneously and in 2019, we delivered 50 seamless upgrades to each client with no downtime. This was a serious problem with older legacy systems, with upgrades being thought of like the Grim Reaper, a line only to be crossed if you had no other choice. ECLIPSE makes life easier and gives time back to Social Workers to ensure that stress levels are reduced through additional time that can be spent where needed.

To conclude

This Valentine’s Day as we are all heading out to celebrate our relationships, but we want to take a moment and celebrate those who work within social care. They work longer hours than they should under immense pressure that can seem never-ending. They need a helping hand and technology can provide this. It can enable new ways of working that can be delivered across agencies in order to enable multi-agency working.

Social work has been seen as separate from the NHS since its inception which seems odd. They are two sides of the same coin and without a plan to unite the two, people will continue to be left outside in the cold. Caseloads will continue to increase until the system collapses and this is the outcome that no-one desires. The time is now. Brexit is here and we need to prove that it will not result in the abandonment of the old and sick. A true measure of a society is how they treat the most vulnerable members within.

At present, we are failing the most vulnerable and not recognising the excellent work of social workers. Statutory returns are a necessary evil, but we need to create systems that make recording easy, whilst also providing the necessary reports and returns. A difficult tightrope to balance, but modern systems are available that make recording easier and enable social workers to concentrate on their clients.

We have created technology solutions that can be used in conjunction with new ways of working and these are the key to creating efficiencies. These efficiencies will benefit all and give Social Workers the freedom to unshackle themselves from their desks and spend more time with those in their care.