Writing Contest: Social Work Student Category Winner
Social work student category winner: Raquel Walker
The concept would be that social workers work in pairs in a buddy scheme. The idea is to decrease pressures of work load and provide a continued sense of support amongst teams.
One thing that I believe to be one of the demises of the social work career is the inability to spend quality time with service users. One reason for this is due to the increase in compulsory paper work.
Each social work buddy pairing would work on a weekly rotation. For example;
Social worker A: Week 1- service user face to face work
Week 2- office based work
Social worker B: Week 1- office based work
Week 2- service user face to face work
How Does It Work?
Between each pair of social workers or ‘buddies’ the same case files and service users are shared. Therefore whilst one is out doing assessments and face to face social work, the other one can be in the office receiving the relevant information needed to be added to systems. If social worker A is speaking with service users and has nothing to report back to social worker B. social worker B is able to utilise this time to firstly update their own calendar of meetings and appointments in preparation for their week out of office, as well as update any outstanding case notes and familiarise themselves with any new information that may have been recorded the previous week by social worker A.
In order to monitor and maintain accountability for each other's contribution to the notes, each amendment or update of information should be dated, and the initials of the social worker marked. Another way of simplifying this would be through an individual colour code system for each social worker's notes.
This would benefit social workers by giving them freedom to spend time with people that may need more time to make progress and build relationships with their social worker.
Pros and Cons
It is likely that most service users have been referred from other services and therefore contact with other professionals, thus would be familiar with a process of meeting new professionals. Nevertheless we must consider that for the service user, an initial meeting with only 1 social worker may be a distressing and challenging task without having to meet somebody new again the following week. One way to alleviate some of the anxiety around meeting another social workers would be for the social worker A to show the service user an ID card of social worker B during the initial meeting, giving the service user familiarity and ensuring that they are involved in their own assessments and case.
An alternative option would be to have both social workers present on any initial meetings. However, the issues that arise from this is power imbalances. The balance of power can be perceived to be tipped toward the social workers in a setting ratio of 2:1; an environment which could become intimidating for the service user.
A solution would be to enable the service user to hold the initial meeting in a place that is comfortable and safe for them, (if applicable, dependent on the circumstances of the meeting). Moreover, it will enable the service user to have an appointed advocate, friend or relative present (only) at the initial meeting for purposes of fair and confidential assessment (again only if applicable). This balances the power dynamic.
Moreover still, having two social workers can cause changes in response from their service user, which in fact could open up the door for more information to be obtained.
For example, in research it is theorised that the outcomes of a question may differ due to the person that is conducting the assessment. Bryman (2004) says ‘there is evidence that the interviewers’ attributes can have an impact on respondents’ replies’. This could be due to race, religion, age, gender or ethnicity of the ‘interviewer’ (social worker). For this reason having 2 social workers per service user or family could expand the reaches of information gathering and relationship building between social worker and service user. It is likely that the service user will respond more openly to one social worker than the other. For example, if the service user had one social worker (social worker A) throughout their whole time in service and did not get on with them, the likelihood is that they will not engage well with services which could be detrimental to their own well-being or the well-being of others. However, if the service user has social worker A the first week and doesn’t respond well, and social worker B the next week who they like, trust and feel; whether it be due to their race, religion, age, gender, ethnicity or other attribute, then a relationship is going to develop quicker than if social worker A had had to persevere for weeks until having a breakthrough, if any at all.
The ‘buddies’ would work closely together conducting regular sit down supervision meetings (PCF 1.3) where both practitioners can feedback, compare and contrast service user meetings and any on-going cases (PCF 7.8), check accuracy of notes and information gathering and check each other’s well-being. It also prevents issues of service users having to have to repeat anything that they said the previous week.
This all nicely brings together out-of-office practice and office work.