New campaign aims to cut time social workers spend on paperwork

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A new campaign to improve working conditions for social workers and raise children’s outcomes has been launched today.

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The 80-20 campaign wants to address the amount of time social workers spend on paperwork

The 80-20 campaign aims to address the imbalance in the amount of time social workers spend doing paperwork, as opposed to having direct contact with children and families.

It has been launched by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), in partnership with the Children’s Commissioner’s Office.

Research by the BASW suggests that social workers spend close to 80 per cent of their time working on computers or completing paperwork, while 20 per cent of their time is spent in direct contact with children and families, building relationships.

Findings from its survey of 350 members showed on average social workers spend during a working week of 45 hours, 29 hours on a computer or doing paperwork, and only 11 hours on direct relationship-based time with children.

One respondent said, ‘Social work is totally skewed in favour of administration and is the focus of supervision. My paperwork is reviewed regularly, but I have not been observed in direct work with any family/young person in five years.’

Another said, ‘If only we could do the job we all came into the profession to do rather than being a slave to the computer and organisation bureaucracy.’

The BASW said its survey and collaborating research presented to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Social Work that showed Government funding for social services has dropped significantly since 2010, highlights the need for an ‘organisational culture shift' to create more opportunities and time for social workers to have face-to-face contact with children.

As such it will be talking to and supporting local authorities to implement practical solutions it has identified to help reverse the imbalance, including:

  • Investing in better IT systems. According to BASW, most commonly reported problems with local authorities’ IT systems are slow running computers, unreliable photocopiers and case recording systems going offline.
  • Controlling admin by appointing dedicated admin staff.
  • A change in management thinking, moving away from managerialism focusing on performance indicators and targets and place more importance on direct work and outcomes for children.
  • Leaders and managers boosting staff pride in their work by supporting them to do what they trained for, having autonomy to do what matters for their service users, and spend more time engaging in direct work.

Maris Stratulis, BASW England manager, who is leading on the campaign, said, ‘The term “relationship based social work” is not an add on, it is fundamentally about building relationships and that takes time, investment and commitment. More direct contact is what children are telling us they need, and we need to listen to what they are telling us.’

Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England, said, ‘Children in care deserve the chance to thrive and fulfil their aspirations, and stable relationships are an essential part of building their lives and achieving their potential. Children themselves say that stability is the most important aspect of their experience of care. That’s why I think the 80/20 campaign is an important opportunity to look at the impact of the direct time social workers spend with children and families, and at how we can improve the experiences of children in care.’

Alongside the 80-20 campaign, BASW will continue to lobby Government against anti-austerity measures that increase poverty, cause families to break down, and which drive year-on-year increases in referral rates and child protection measures.

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