I was interested to see that Community Care are running an article about a survey that they ran which says that 9/10 social workers want caseload numbers to be capped.
I completed that survey and I’m in the 1/10 minority.
Most of my reasons are covered in the article. My point is that a ‘case’ is not necessarily a fair recognition of how much or how little work might be involved. One ‘case’ could be anything from some high intensity almost Assertive Outreach type working which involve both multiple visits a week and lots of peripheral organisation and meetings that might involve one ‘case’ taking the majority of a professionals’ time.
On the other hand, another ‘case’ might be one that is pretty much dormant, where everything is stable and the worker just hasn’t had the time to get around to closing because other, more pressing situations arise.
A blunt cap on caseloads doesn’t allow for any subtlety in the vastly different ways that cases are managed and the different work that is involved.
My very first social work job was in an adult community care team. When I left, I remember having to close 49 cases. Yes, that is appalling as a number on paper and I was consistently overworked – but – at least 20 of them did not need to be open and it was a matter of just not having got round to closing them.
Before I went in hospital earlier this year, I had a purge of all those cases that could be closed and managed to close five that I probably should have closed months previously.
Numbers aren’t necessarily the key. The other problem with a caseload cap is that there is an incentive for a worker maybe not to close a particular case if they don’t want to be allocated another one!
The problem is that raw numbers are too haphazard a tool to measure workload.
I am in favour of weighted caseload management theoretically but the systems to ‘weight’ the caseloads are not always able to take into account the various nuances of the job. It is something to ‘be aware of though’. A weighted caseload management system would find some way to balance the heavier pieces of work and the more ‘straightforward’ cases.
The problem is that anyone who has worked in the field for five minutes would know that an apparently ‘simple’ case can become complex very very quickly. We are talking about people!
One of the other issues about numbers is that there is an impression of ‘fairness’ across the team – you can know if you have the same number of cases as Joe and if that’s ‘fair’ or not.
I’ve always been slightly suspicious of this in the sense that having fewer cases doesn’t equate to having less work. Caseload management systems that try to equate ‘complexity’ can fail because although sometimes it’s very obvious something will be both complex and intense, sometimes these things just appear randomly in the nature that is human life.
So the answer?
The key to workload management has to be through good supervision and a dialogue between the manager and employee and a respect to know what the limits of an acceptable workload are and it will be different for different settings and for different individuals.