Thursday, May 26, 2016

Self-care: Building resilience for social workers

Five questions social workers should ask about resilience

Social work carries the possibility of stress and vicarious trauma. Experts in our online discussion shared tips on building resilience and the role of employers

Hardy, R. (2016). The Guardian. Retrieved from:

1. What is resilience?

Rachel Wardell, chair of the workforce development policy committee, Association of Directors of Children’s Services: “We have to be careful about how we define resilience. At its most basic it is a mental and physical flexibility (perhaps even toughness) that enables a person to recover from setbacks, challenges and difficulties. In the context of the emotionally demanding work of social work and social care, it is easy to see how that quality would be useful.

What we have to be careful about is that we don’t automatically expect a “capacity to recover” that disadvantages people in our workforce whose physical and mental health is not 100%, or that we expect a toughness that results in people becoming uncaring in their work, or that we confuse resilience with expecting people to tolerate working conditions that other professions would find intolerable.”

Jim Greer, principal lecturer in social work, Teesside University: “Finding a definition of resilience in the context of social work requires us first to consider that social work involves emotional labour and that social workers can experience vicarious trauma as a result of hearing and responding to other people’s traumatic experiences. In essence, it is an ability to recover from these experiences and to be able to continue to cope with our work and personal lives.”

2. Is there a balance to be found between encouraging social workers to be resilient and creating working conditions that aren’t inherently stressful?

Emma Perry, senior lecturer in social work, University of Gloucestershire: “Resilience shouldn’t be used to expect staff to manage intolerable conditions or workloads. It does need to be acknowledged that everyone has their limits. It should also be recognised that organisations have a key part to play in resilience through providing appropriate and good quality support and working environments for their staff.”

Jim Greer: “Resilience is needed to cope with the emotional demands of social work as it occurs within a reasonable caseload and where there is good supervision. It is important that employers realise this. Helping social workers to improve their resilience should never be seen as an excuse for expecting people to cope with unreasonable workloads. Nor should the concept be used to attach blame to those who are not coping. Even people who normally have good resilience will have a tipping point in terms of stress, or a period in their life where their ability to cope is reduced by pressures on them from elsewhere.”

3. How can employers best support their staff?

Ruth Allen, chief executive, British Association of Social Workers: “IStaff stress is often compounded or caused by a sense of disempowerment in the workplace. This is antithetical to a sustainable, respected professional role and is counterproductive for quality of service and positive user experience. Practitioners and their professional views need to be integrated into management and leadership approaches. Communication and transparency are key to this.”

Anna Elliott, acting service manager, learning and development – children and families, Somerset county council: “How organisations look after their staff is critical and of course good quality reflective supervision is vital in this. Ensuring everyone in social work teams has good training on reflective supervision is important. We can’t assume everyone knows what good quality reflective supervision looks like. Often if you haven’t experienced it yourself it is difficult to provide it for others so it’s an organisational responsibility to train all supervisors.”

Elizabeth Frost, associate professor, University of West of England: “When we interviewed social workers who had stayed in child protection for more than three years, the things that kept them there and feeling positive were about identity fit (still feeling committed to the work – the politics of helping), friendships at work and the support they gave, a sense of autonomy around decisions and further training, as well as organisational issues such as good supervision.”

4. How can social workers build their own resilience?

Ruth Allen: “I started practising mindfulness over 10 years ago during a stressful period in my work. I don’t practise every day but it is an inner resource that is always available to me – and it has been crucial at key moments in my working life. No one can take it away from you once you have found a way to return to a settled centre. Just a few minutes can settle a chaotic situation and enable you to re-engage with clarity. It is not a panacea for poorly framed roles and lack of control over managing work, but it is a fantastic tool that you can take with you anywhere.”

Paul Dockerty, health and wellbeing officer, Cafcass: “By encouraging simple daily practices such as mindful breathing or taking a short break away from the desk at lunch time, we can create a sense of balance, ease and energy. The key is to encourage more mindfulness into our work days.”

5. Is there room for different ways of working, such as sabbaticals or flexi-time?

Rachel Wardell: “We need to be open to bold ideas about working practice, but before implementing sabbaticals after specific individual cases, or something like four weeks on, two weeks off, I would want to think carefully about the impact of these practices on the vulnerable people we work with, who tend to tell us that they value continuity, consistency and predictability. One way to manage this may be with team-held caseloads. It will be interesting to hear more from employers who work that way about any benefits for resilience and for relationships with service users.”

Emma Perry: “Innovative ways of working would need to be introduced with care to ensure they actually help in this area rather than hinder. We have seen how flexible working can be a double-edged sword as it may be beneficial in some areas but can reduce team cohesiveness and access to support from colleagues, while working from home can blur boundaries and impact on the work-life balance – areas that we know are important in building resilience.”

Join the Social Care Network to read more pieces like this. Follow us on Twitter (@GdnSocialCare) and like us on Facebook to keep up with the latest social care news and views.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Advocacy: Radio podcast on how social workers need to be creative in working for social justice

Deena Mandell Quote

Podcast: Social workers have a duty to skirt edge of the law, says author

Marley, K. (2016). The Current.  CBC. Retrieved from:


Longtime social worker Deena Mandell says working outside the legal system is necessary for social justice. She argues that until oppressive systems change, subversion and extra legal action may be the only way to help the vulnerable.
Should social workers skirt the edges of the law if it benefits their clients?

Tweet us @TheCurrentCBC. Post on our Facebook page. Or email us.

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ethics: Resources for Social Work Ethics

Video: Ethical and Risk-management issues in Social Work: What Every Practitioner Needs to Know
Dr. Frederic Reamer (2009). University at Buffalo School of Social Work Alumni Day Presentation. YouTube. Retrieved from: 


Like most mental health and social services providers, social workers face a number of legal and ethical issues throughout their careers. They must make difficult decisions regarding treatment issues, maintain professional boundaries and develop awareness of value conflicts. The National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics provides ethical and legal guidelines for social workers in the areas of clients, other professionals, practice settings, the profession and society.


A List of Ethical Dilemmas Facing Social Work

Social workers take on a variety of responsibilities that should ultimately serve their clients' best interests. They try to abide by the code of ethics from professional organizations like the National Association of Social Workers or the International Federation of Social Workers as a way to guide their actions. As in any human services profession, social workers may face a number of ethical dilemmas in their practice. An ethical dilemma involves a conflict between two or more ethical principles.


Ethical Misconduct and Negligence in Social Work
Reamer, F. G. (2015). Social Work Today (15) 5, p. 20. Retrieved from:

Although infrequent, social workers' misconduct and negligence can lead to lawsuits, licensing board complaints, and other disciplinary action.

Lawsuits brought against social workers typically allege both negligence and malpractice. In general, malpractice occurs when evidence exists of the following:
1. At the time of the alleged malpractice, the social worker had a legal duty to the client.
2. The practitioner was derelict in that duty, either through omission (the failure to perform one's duty) or through commission (an action taken by the practitioner).
3. The client suffered some harm or injury.
4. The social worker's dereliction of duty was the direct and proximate cause of the harm or injury.
In contrast, when making their decisions, licensing boards need not require evidence that social workers' actions (commission) or inactions (omission) caused harm. Rather, licensing boards can sanction social workers based simply on evidence that their conduct violated standards contained in licensing statutes or regulations.

Reamer, F. G. (2013). Social Work, (58), 2, p. 163-172. Retrieved from:

Abstract: Digital, onhne, and other electronic technology has transformed the nature of social work practice. Contemporary social workers can provide services to chents by using onhne counsehng, telephone counsehng, video counseling, cybertherapy (avatar therapy), selfguided Web-based interventions, electronic social networks, e-mail, and text messages. The introduction of diverse digital, online, and other forms of electronic social services has created a wide range of complex ethical and related risk management issues. This article provides an overview of current digital, onhne, and electronic social work services; identifies compelling ethical issues related to practitioner competence, chent privacy and confidentiality, informed consent, conflicts of interest, boundaries and dual relationships, consultation and chent referral, termination and interruption of services, documentation, and research evidence; and offers practical risk management strategies designed to protect clients and social workers. The author identifies relevant standards from the NASW Code of Ethics and other resources designed to guide practice. 


Video: Social Work Ethical Dilemmas
Sean Schroeder (2015). Youtube. 
Retrieved from:

Monday, May 16, 2016

Advocacy: CASW Commends Canadian Government on Decision to Adopt UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

CASW Commends Decision to Adopt UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

OTTAWA, May 10, 2016 – IFSW member The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) commends the federal government’s decision to officially adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada was one of only four countries that voted against the Declaration when it was passed in 2007.

In her announcement, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett noted that the federal government intends to not only adopt, but also implement the Declaration in accordance with Canada’s Constitution.

“We are pleased that this federal government has ended Canada’s former opposition,” began CASW President Morel Caissie, “and are even more encouraged by the tone of the Minister’s address to the UN: specifically the implication that it will lead to tangible improvements for indigenous Canadians.”

Beyond calling for the acknowledgement of Canada’s systemic racism and indifference toward indigenous peoples and communities, CASW has urged the federal government to act immediately on all 94 Calls to Action advanced in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) final report.

“The endorsement of the Declaration has incredible symbolic value in its affirmation of the rights of indigenous people,” added Mr. Caissie, “but it is time that the federal government turn research, consultation, and symbolic gestures into concrete acts of reconciliation.”

CASW looks forward to holding this federal government accountable to its commitment to real change. “We are hopeful that this government will follow through on all of its promises of reconciliation by restoring equity and upholding the rights of indigenous Canadians,” concluded Mr. Caissie, “and we will support them in any way possible.”