A research project, which analysed complaints about social workers made to the Social Care Council and Patient and Client Council, has been formally launched in a report entitled: ‘Relationships Matter’.
Jointly commissioned by the Northern Ireland Social Care Council, the British Association of Social Workers Northern Ireland and the Patient and Client Council, the research project was undertaken by Dr David Hayes from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast.
The project focused on referrals made about social workers by service users and carers, over a 10 year period, from 1 January 2006 to 1 November 2015, the date that the new Social Work Standards of Conduct came into effect.
While the majority of complaints made were about Family and Child Care social workers, it should be noted that only a small number of social workers are complained about. The Social Care Council reported that between 2010 and 2015, the number of complaints received annually about social workers, averaged just under 1% of all registered social workers in Northern Ireland.
The report also highlighted that the vast majority of complaints are not about decisions or actions taken by social workers, but about relational factors. It also stressed that relationships between service users/carers and social workers in Family and Child Care work matter.
One of the key report actions recommended, is for the commissioners of the study to consider how social workers and service users/carers can be engaged in gathering their views of the findings and how they can be addressed.
Author of the report Dr Hayes said: “Relationships are really important in social work practice but they are not necessarily easy. Both parties to the relationship; social workers and service users, require support. Social workers must be supported to devote the necessary time, and to develop the skills and qualities required, to build relationships in challenging circumstances and contested areas of practice. Service users equally need to be supported in terms of their understanding of social work processes and in having access to independent sources of advice and advocacy.”
Commenting on the launch, Social Care Council interim Chief Executive Patricia Higgins said: “This is an important study and particularly highlights that relationships matter in social work practice. The standard of Social Work across Northern Ireland is extremely high, despite the challenges and complexities that face the profession on a daily basis. In reflecting on the research findings, we must look at ways that we can support social workers, enabling them to build positive and effective relationships with service users. In taking forward the report recommendations, we will engage with social workers, service users and carers.”
Welcoming the launch of the report Carolyn Ewart, BASW NI National Director said: “Social workers engage with individuals and families during what are often deeply stressful periods and we recognise that social work involvement in people’s lives can give rise to anxiety and uncertainty. The report explains many of the tensions which lead to complaints can be prevented by enabling social workers to spend more time connecting with their service users to establish relationships and build trust. BASW NI will continue its work to ensure time-draining tasks, including the completion of unnecessary or duplicative paperwork, are simplified to enable social workers to focus on engaging with and supporting their service users.”
Also welcoming the publishing of the findings, Complaints Support Manager, Richard Dixon from the Patient and Client Council said: “When people contact us with concerns about a social worker they often tell us that they want better information on their role, the powers they have and how they are able to help. We therefore welcome the recommendation within this report to improve the information given to people when they engage with a social worker. The Patient and Client Council is very pleased to partner with the Social Care Council and BASW on this important project and we look forward to working further with the profession and with service users to help implement the recommendations.”