A recent post on Facebook featured a glowing fullmoon. The caption read “Most people – Wow, isn’t the moon beautiful! Social workers – Oh, crap!” Translation – “Our caseloads are already overwhelming, and more cases seem to follow full moons!” The caseloads of most social workers and foster care caseworkers are far from a joke, however.
Social workers are coming under increased strain as workloads for those in both children’s and adult services continue to grow, while local authority funding cuts continue to shrink resources. This simultaneously creates extra pressure and stress for current caseworkers and depresses the interest of potential candidates in the field of social work.
The crushing combination of too many cases and not enough time or support can lead to a number of negative consequences. The most serious consequence is fewer visits or services for seriously at-risk clients, including one of society’s most vulnerable populations – foster children. Workloads and caseloads have been linked to performance on both Federal Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs) and the achievement of safety and permanency outcomes for children.
In addition to causing a decline in both the quantity and quality of services provided to clients, excessive caseloads have been found to contribute to both secondary traumatization and burnout, which often leads to higher worker turnover. In New Hampshire, a recent study reported that a full third of the positions of social workers in charge of investigating child abuse and neglect were vacant. The culprit? Huge caseloads.
When states examine their long-term strategy to produce better outcomes for children and families, one area of focus is often how to reduce caseloads. There are a number of benefits to shrinking caseloads that can be felt at the state level, as well as at the local and organizational level. More positive outcomes for clients is often cited as a key reason to reduce the caseloads of these critical workers.
It seems obvious that reducing caseloads can have serious benefits for their clients, but why does it help?
Effectively serving children and families takes time, relationship building, service coordination and true engagement. All of what makes for a successful intervention and what leads to a positive outcome is time-intensive. Ensuring that social workers and foster care caseworkers have manageable caseloads allows them the time to give each case the attention it deserves. The National Association of Social Workers sees this as so integral to the job of a social worker that they have included this language: “The social work case manager shall responsibly advocate for a caseload and scope of work that permits high-quality planning, provision, and evaluation of case management services.” in their compilation of standards.
Another benefit of reducing caseloads is to help retain workers who would otherwise leave as a result of feeling overloaded, because of secondary traumatic stress, or both. Studies have related workers’ perceptions of their workloads to work-family conflict, job satisfaction, burnout, depression, mental well-being, and absenteeism. All of these bring negative consequences for social work and foster care agencies and the clients they serve.
Rather than investing their energies in finding qualified applicants for open positions, training those new employees and then watching as good employees burnout and leave, trimming employee caseloads and finding time-saving ways for them to manage that caseload will reap the largest benefit.
Reducing caseloads is hardly an easy feat, but there are things you can do to streamlining process and implement time-saving procedures to keep a large caseload from seeming as overwhelming.
For organizations with fewer than 10 employees, Apricot Essentials from Social Solutions can help make all aspects of social work and foster care management quicker and easier. From case notes to data entry to report generation, Apricot Essentials is designed to help take some of the weight off of your overworked social workers and foster care caseworkers. Join us this December for our weekly webinar demo series. This series will provide a deeper look at Apricot Essentials. Contact one of our Social Solutions specialists today for more information.