Social workers ‘need more secretaries and less paperwork’

Form-filling is "taking the heart out of the job"

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Secretaries could hold the answer to improving standards in social work, the head of the field’s professional body has told The Independent.

Annie Hudson, chief executive of the College of Social Work, said more administrative staff would save pushed social workers from being distracted by “bureaucratic burdens” and mean they could get on with helping children and vulnerable adults.

Too many demands, from Government and employers, mean social workers are often stuck inside filling in forms which “has driven what is social work’s heart out of the job,” Ms Hudson said.

“Everyone recognises we need to get social workers back to doing what they’re good at,” she added. “They’re not administrators. There’s an awful lot more to be done to free people up, to do the work that they’re qualified to do.

“We need to make sure that social workers focus on things where they can use their expertise, so that they’re not involved in unnecessary bureaucracy, and they’re not doing administrative tasks when other people should be doing that. Social workers need good administrative support. Social workers need to be practitioners not administrators.”

Ms Hudson said she had seen first-hand the damaging effect of cutting back on secretaries. “I was in an authority recently and they talked about how as part of their savings, they all had to have cuts in administrative staff. But when they went back into developing a better model for social work, they realised they had to bring them back. To get the best value from social workers, who are relatively expensive, they had to bring back more administrative support.”

A joint report from the College of Social Work and the Royal College of GPs out on Wednesday will look at the practical ways that family doctors and social workers can work together to make savings and provide better care. On the same day Ms Hudson will be speaking at the National Children and Adult Services conference in Manchester debating the future of the profession. 

One of Ms Hudson’s recommendations will be continuing to cut back on unnecessary paperwork. “Of course they need to be accountable for their performance, and of course there’s certain information we have to capture and aggregate. But that needs to be supporting the work rather than driving it.”

She added: “It’s a mixed picture locally but there’s a long way to go in freeing social work up. That’s partly central government needing to loosen up its guidance but also about employers changing from ticking boxes and trusting social workers’ judgement while not losing sight of the need to be accountable.”

More secretaries and fewer forms could also address a looming shortage of experienced social workers due to extremely high drop-out rates. A recent survey for Community Care found one in 10 social workers are considering quitting and Ms Hudson thinks changes are needed to hold onto staff for longer.