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Technology overhaul required in social services

Social services technology needs a major overhaul to enable social workers to spend less time on administration and more time with families, says BASW.

Launching a campaign in collaboration with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, BASW is calling for social workers to be freed up to spend more time with families after a survey found that social workers spend almost 80% of their time on the computer or carrying out paperwork.

Maris Stratulis, BASW England manager is leading this initiative and says: “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.”

A survey of 350 BASW members showed that in an average social worker working week of 45 hours, 29 are spent on a computer or doing paperwork. BASW wants the 80-20 ratio to be reversed so that social workers can spend 80% of their time working with families and 20% on paper-work rather than the other way round which is currently the case.

Furthermore BASW says that relationship-based practice requires skilled and reflective use of self, informed by critical reflection and analysis, and augmented by creativity and curiosity. However 32% of respondents to the survey said they spent no time on reflective practice per week and 42% of respondents said they spent less than an hour.

The campaign says that overhauling IT systems could free up social workers’ time and calls for an investment in IT systems to prevent social workers having to duplicate work. A look at local authority health-check surveys show on average, 87 per cent of social workers said they had access to IT, although the quality of equipment varied.

Slow computers, unreliable photocopiers and case recording systems going offline were commonly reported IT issues. However, where councils had invested in IT, social workers had benefited from the investment. In Bracknell Forest, staff were positive about the “considerable investment” in new equipment, including Blackberries. North Yorkshire BASW members said new technology had reduced duplication of work and increased their ability to do direct work.

Meanwhile, North Tyneside’s adult’s social worker members said laptops and tablets had saved them time and helped speed up case recording.

Dedicated admin teams to support social workers is also recommended by the Association. One Suffolk social worker said the introduction of dedicated admin support for their team had “enormously” improved “the capacity and quality of service we can provide”.

Management also have a part to play and should increase the focus on direct work with vulnerable children and families rather than performance indicators, said BASW, which has also pledged to continue to lobby government over austerity measures which impacts on social work by plunging families into poverty, putting stress on families.

Anne Longfield OBE, Children’s Commissioner for England, says: “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.”

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