By Gavin Mackintosh-
Social workers have been off work in high numbers for a few months due to Covid-19, research from the Department Of Education reveals.
Councils in the Uk reported high numbers of social workers not working due to Covid-19 rose last month, after a steady drop since May, the survey shows.
Four per cent of local authorities said more than 10% of social workers were not working due to the pandemic from 19-21 October, up from 2% at the start of last month and 1% in early September.
The research also said that 11% of councils reported that a tenth of the children’s residential workforce was off due to COVID-19 from 19-21 October, up from 8% at the start of the month.
Social workers perform one of the most important functions in society, but the profession has seen multiple numbers of its members suspended or expelled from the profession due to misconduct or incompetence.
The profession has also been under regular attack from aggrieved families across the Uk for various reasons and in different circumstances.
Burdened with overload, an often poorly co-ordinated system, and limited expertise in dealing with complex families, Covid-19 has provided the perfect reason for many social workers to take time off work. Those who hadn’t tested positive for the virus were self isolating once they heard others were. This is ofcourse a legal requirement for all who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid -19. But many other social workers also took the opportunity of the pandemic to take time off work, according to some in the profession.
The majority of social workers continued working before England’s second lockdown, but the proportion of absentees went up since the easing of the first lockdown.
Local authorities hit most by the coronavirus infection, whether in the form of deaths or positive tests, told the Department of Education they were beginning to experience issues with staff availability. One authority said wider teams had to self-isolate due to one worker having a positive test, with the NHS contact tracing app being a driver for this.
Many social workers have also seen the pandemic as an opportunity to avoid some of the challenges of visiting dysfunctional families where domestic violence or drug addiction thrives.
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) England expressed concern about the DfE’s findings, adding: “A depleted workforce – through no fault of individual social workers following national guidelines – increases the pressure on teams working hard in already difficult circumstances to safeguard children and families.”
Rachael Wardell, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ (ADCS) workforce development policy committee, said that “most local authorities have responded to any workforce shortages by redeploying their existing staff to fill gaps because those staff are already familiar with local arrangements and systems”.
Wardell said that the ADCS anticipated a “peak in referrals to children’s services [was] yet to come, and when it does this will put added pressure on a workforce that was already under strain pre-Covid-19, particularly if the number of social worker absences continues to rise”.
BASW England added: “With the winter flu season upon us, the concern is that the problem will increase… A stable, well-resourced and fully supported workforce is needed to manage anticipated rises in referrals over the next few months.”