Monday, September 22, 2014

Global Social Work: Global Perspectives on Low morale in Social Work

Low morale in social work: global perspectives on empowering the sector

Sponsored Q&A: Expert views from our live discussion on improving the morale of social workers

Hardy, R. (2014). Guardian.

The panel

Does social work have a problem with morale?

Vimla Nadkarni: “Social work morale is a major issue which needs to be addressed by our social work organisations within countries and across the globe. In some of our countries, social work is still to receive social and legal sanction as a profession and a discipline. The governments are also under pressure to reduce investment in the social sector, thus affecting the status of social workers in state-funded programmes as is happening in the UK and several European countries.”

Rory Truell: “I think one of the world wide problems is that anyone whose work that is evaluated by an instrument that does not correlate to her or his professional values is bound to feel low morale over a period of time. Agencies are often far too concerned with short term outcomes which inadvertently cause long-term problems. In my experience social workers do not want rotating doors at the front of their workplaces.”

Vasilios Ioakimidis: “Low morale among social workers is not a UK specific problem. Across Europe, many social workers feel alienated and frustrated. There is strong evidence to suggest that there is a link between alienation of frontline practitioners and the dramatic cuts on social spending across Europe. Also, the stigmatisation of service users and the emergence of managerialism appear to be crucial factors affecting social work morale.”

Is there a link between morale and social work education?

Ioakimidis: “There is a strong link. What we hear from our EASSW members across Europe is that very often cuts in social services go hand in hand with cuts in higher education and more specifically in social work programmes. In some countries social work programmes are at risk of closure (Italy or Greece for example) while in other countries (like the UK) the creation of five-week qualifying routes has undermined the values and complex learning needs embedded in social work education.”

David Niven: “I spoke with Antonina Dashkina, president of Russian Union of Social Workers and she was talking about the 500,000 social workers (her figure) in Russia and saying that 200,000 have five year degree courses and have a high public recognition factor. Now I’ve no detail about their challenges or downsides but the obvious pride she demonstrated in her interview was impressive.”

Anthony Douglas: “I am a visiting lecturer at two universities in England and I am more and more impressed with the quality of students close to completing their courses. I think this is an important point and whilst some new entrants to all professions are unsuitable, my experience on the ground is that standards are improving, though the bar has been raised because operational life for many new graduates is too difficult at to early a stage in their professional career and development.”

Practical ways to improve morale

Douglas: Some steps we’ve found helpful in Cafcass are a permanent staff group, a workload weighting scheme worked out with our unions, good equipment for practitioners like tablets and 4G laptops, a health and wellbeing plan which covers early assessment and treatment of nearly all health and medical conditions, and making sure supervision levels are high. We have downsides too, all organisations do, but I have seen the morale of our practitioners improve steadily and we are determined to continue this trend.”

Nushra Mansuri: “We entertained visitors from South Korea a few years ago, who provided social workers with a facility for retreat and replenishment which I thought was a great initiative!”

Niven: “I’ve been involved for some time in dealing with the media and have increasingly felt the need to hear frontline voices talking about the significant amount of good news and success stories. Not the crises or difficult high profile stuff – which is rightly for senior staff to deal with. It really would help open up and balance what we do.”

Ioakimidis: The question of social work morale seems to be a structural one rather than an issue of “personal weakness”. This is much more visible nowadays that practitioners experience heavy case loads and cuts in resources. It is important that no social worker goes through this process alone and in isolation, internalizing the pressures and reducing a broader issue to self-pity and quit. Networking, models of collective supervision and building of alliances/ partnerships with other colleagues and service users are useful ways of empowerment. The Swan in the UK and the Orange Tide in Spain are excellent examples of a proactive and collective response to this issue. Unions have also a crucial role to play in this respect.”

Looking to the future

Mansuri: “The danger ironically in a world where social media has revolutionised our ability to communicate with one another is that we can still be very insular in our thinking and parochial (speaking of course, in terms of my experience of social work in England and not for others). Social work is a global profession and we are very proud of that and need to have more opportunities to exchange ideas, share concerns and look for solutions together as we are after all, part of the social work community where collaboration is vital.”

Nadkarni: “I hope we can end with an optimistic note that social work as a profession is growing in several of our countries specially in the Asian region and IASSW is committed to supporting social work education and maintaining quality education and practice to promote human rights and social development. Morale of social workers is dependent on several micro and macro level factors which we must analyse, understand and address.”

Douglas: “I would like to see the development of global social work standards as the forum has shown how much all countries have in common: how many inspiring examples of high morale there are; and how many serious moral problems also persist which need urgent attention. The solutions are obvious from this string, it is a question of doing something about them sustainably.”

Reader comments

Deona Hooper: “With recent news, I know many may feel the UK system is imperfect. However, in my opinion, it’s one of the most progressive social care systems in the world. The unionisation of the social care labor force, the registration system, and even the HCPC grievance system for clients are all lacking in the United States. In my opinion, if the quality of social workers are failing then its the quality of education and training that is failing them. I believe this profession has become extremely privileged with a lack of diversity which is reflected in recruitment,admissions, and faculty at schools of social work.”

Ulene Schiller: “I would like to comment on the morale issues amongst social workers in South Africa as well. There are a lot of positive things happening and motivated social workers, but poor working conditions and unmanageable caseloads has a negative impact on our social workers morale. Being a lecturer at the University of Fort Hare, it is sad to see how students are so well prepared and go into practice and soon realise that the low morale forces them to also become unmotivated.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Global Social Work: Violence Survey results from UK Social Workers

85% of social workers were assaulted, harassed or verbally abused in the past year

Community Care's annual violence survey reveals that 70% of attacks and threats towards social workers and social care staff are not investigated

Schrraer, R. (2014). Community Care. 

Violence against social workers is still being regarded as “just part of the job” and not being treated seriously, a survey by Community Care has revealed.

In Community Care’s online survey of 446 social workers, 85% said they had been physically assaulted, verbally abused or harassed in the past year. In most cases the abuse was carried out by a service user or service user’s relative.

Social workers reported being threatened with weapons, verbally abused, stabbed, held hostage, harassed in the street and having hot drinks thrown on them. Some had to move house or leave their jobs due to persistent abuse.

A social worker responding to the survey said: “On one occasion, a service user’s son threatened to hunt me down and talked about weapons he could use, all because I was supporting his father in his wish to access respite care.”

One reported four arson attacks to her car after a service user found out where she lived: “I had to give up my home and move,” she told us, while another reported being stabbed on two separate occasions, threatened with a firearm, spat at and punched in his 14 years in the profession.

The survey found that nine out of 10 social workers feel at personal risk at least some of the time, with one in five saying they feel unsafe “often” or “almost all the time” while at work.

But one social worker, who received death threats over the phone from a service user, said: “It’s not taken seriously as it is seen as part of the job.”

This sense that being at risk of violence is part of the job frequently holds social workers back from taking further action. Two thirds of those who did not report incidents to either their employer or the police said it was because they considered abuse as to be expected in their role.

This reluctance to report is made worse by the inadequate response social workers are often met with when they do report incidents of violence.

This summer, a Dundee teenager was let off with a warning for firing an empty BB gun in a social worker’s face and verbally abusing the team manager.

Whilst the majority of social workers who responded to the survey said their employer has a formal policy around violence to their staff, over 70% said they nevertheless took no steps to investigate the incident further when reported.

violence infog2
violence infog3

Annie Hudson, chief executive of The College of Social Work, said that the figures, while concerning, reflect the “risky” nature of social work: “Year-on-year reporting of high levels of violence and abuse may suggest the issue has not been tackled effectively as it needs to be.

“Key to encouraging change is diligent reporting and monitoring of incidents when they occur at a local level, so that patterns of behaviour can be identified and learning and awareness can be improved.”
The lack of appropriate response from employers is of particular concern given over half of social workers surveyed who were victims of violence required time off work, counselling or both. Around a third required medical treatment.

violence infographic1

Part of the problem may be that half of social workers surveyed said they had never received any training on how to cope with violent individuals, despite most being required to enter high risk situations, often alone and without adequate support.

Alan Wood, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said: “Social workers do a difficult job, often in extremely challenging circumstances and they have a vital role in protecting children and young people from harm.

“If they are to fulfil their critically important, statutory, role then need they assurance that they will be protected from assault and abuse and in cases where they experience this unacceptable behaviour appropriate action will be taken by their employer and the police. We cannot protect our children effectively if we do not protect the staff we charge to work with them.”

The British Association of Social Workers, in response to these findings, called for a greater push towards a national framework in which incidents of violence are consistently recorded and dealt with, putting the well-being of the worker as a priority.
violence infog4

Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care said: “These findings show that social workers continue to be exposed to a wholly unacceptable toll of violence and hostility. It is shocking and unacceptable that 1 in 3 social workers have been physically assaulted in the last 12 months. But you also can’t underestimate the effect on morale, well-being and staff retention of the near universal exposure to verbal assaults on a daily basis.

“The findings show a failure on the part of many employers to take prevention seriously, or to respond properly when incidents do happen. This can and does have tragic consequences. A legal case supported by Unison recently showed a complete failure to warn the social worker about a known threat, with horrendous consequences. If nothing else, employers should look urgently at what leaving this issue unchecked is costing them through absences, loss of skilled experienced staff and recruitment costs.”

In the legal case Pile mentioned it was ruled that Durham County Council had failed in its duty of care to protect a social worker from harm. It was known by others in the council that a mentally ill service user delusions had made threats to harm the social worker, but she was not informed of this threat to her safety. The social worker was subsequently attacked with a knife and seriously injured.

Pile said there is a bigger picture that still needs to be looked at in order to improve safety for social workers: “We still do not have mandatory reporting systems, consistent standards or inspection of the fundamentals like risk assessment, information sharing and monitoring.

“The high degree of risk that exists in social care requires a high priority pro-active response from employers, not a shrug of the shoulders that danger is part of the job.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Violence against front line staff is completely unacceptable and against the law. Employers must make sure staff are protected and know what to do if they experience violent behaviour and can be prosecuted if they fail to do this.

“We have provided guidance that makes it clear what we expect of employers and what staff should do in these situations.”

Friday, September 12, 2014

Celebrating Social Work: Social Worker Receives Order of Canada

New Brunswick Social Worker Receives Order of Canada

(Ottawa, Ontario) September 12, 2014 - The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) and the New Brunswick Association of Social Worker (NBASW) are exceptionally pleased to join together in congratulating Rina Arseneault for receiving the Order of Canada today in Ottawa.

As the associate director of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research at the University of New Brunswick, Rina has been involved in research, activism and education. For decades, she has been a passionate voice against family violence, collaborating with front-line workers, community organizations, governments and academia to advance a community-based approach to reduce the incidence and impact of family violence and violence against women. She has also shared her leadership and expertise with such organizations as Femmes Équité Atlantique, HIV/AIDS New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Association of Social Workers.

“Rina embodies the values of the social work profession and in receiving the Order of Canada for her work in reducing family violence and violence against women, she brings honour not only to our profession but to the lives she has impacted” states CASW President, Morel Caissie.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Professional Development: BC Association of Social Workers Conference

BC Association of Social Workers Conference

Expanding Our Capacity: Skills for Meeting Today’s Challenges

Friday and Saturday, October 17 & 18, 2014
Coast Plaza Hotel and Suites
1763 Comox Street | Vancouver BC
Participate in a panel discussion on ethics, workshops on ethics, advocacy, strategies for families and mental health service providers, leadership with seniors, community collaboration, trauma-informed practice, child protection research, building resilience, mediation, field supervision and more.
Check out the printable conference brochure to choose your workshops before registering.

Professional Development: Gottman Couples Couselling Training - Vancouver & Calgary

Gottman Certification Trainings and Workshops

Vancouver & Calgary

Would you like to have a toolbox of interventions to give to couples

that couples love to use ?

Gottman Level 1 Training

Bridging the Couple Chasm

This is the 1st step in learning Gottman Couples Therapy. A truly inspiring workshop. Level 1 training will give you new insight into couples’ struggles using research based assessments and effective interventions.

Vancouver Sept. 29 & 30, 2014
Calgary November 3 & 4, 2014

Gottman Level 2 Training
Assessment, Intervention & Co-Morbidities
Deepen your understanding of Gottman Couples Therapy and expand your strategies & interventions in your work with couples. Practice using Gottman interventions in group role-plays while receiving personalized coaching.
Vancouver Oct. 1-3, 2014
Calgary Nov. 5-7, 2014

The Art & Science of Love - A two-day Gottman Workshop for Couples
Vancouver Oct. 25 & 26, 2014 Edmonton March 7 & 8, 2015
Calgary Nov. 8 & 9, 2014

Join us for a dynamic experience of interactive live training with Lawrence Stoyanowski and Darren Wilk who are Certified Gottman Therapists with a wealth of experience working with the Gottman couples method. They are 2 of only 13 therapists in the world trained to teach Levels 1, 2, & 3 Gottman Workshops. They are also Senior Consultants mentoring therapists in the certification process.

For more info call: 604-539-5277 or email:

Professional Development: Adolescent Health

2014 Roger Tonkin Visiting Professorship on Adolescent Health: Making Moments Meaningful – Making the Most of Our Time with Young People

Two events for anyone interested in broadening their skills in improving the health and well-being of adolescents.

Thursday, October 16, 2014
9:00 am-4:00 pm
Creekside Community Centre, Vancouver
Lunch provided

Doctors Thom Garfat and Kiaras Gharabaghi from the School of Child and Youth Care at Ryerson University lead a skills-building workshop on making moments meaningful in our work with young people.

Friday, October 17
8:30-9:30 am
CFRI Auditorium, BC Children’s Hospital, Vancouver

Dr. Thom Garfat, the Roger Tonkin Visiting Professor, presents at BC Children’s Hospital Pediatric Grand Rounds on Friday morning. A second interactive skill-building presentation will take place on Friday afternoon from 2:00-4:00 pm at BCCH in the Clinical Support Building V2.222.

To confirm attendance, please email:

Presented by the Division of Adolescent Health and Medicine at BC Children’s Hospital, together with the Child and Family Research Institute, Network of Inner City Community Services, RAYCAM, McCreary Centre Society, and with support from the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth.