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Root and Branch Review of Social Work Needed

8 July 2013

Paula McFadden

A root and branch review of social work is needed to ensure that social workers are properly supported to deliver an effective service, according to University of Ulster research.

The research was conducted by Paula McFadden, a senior social worker with Primary Care and Older Peoples Services with the Western Trust, who this week received her doctorate in “Resilience and Burnout in Child Protection Social Work” at the University’s summer graduation ceremonies in the Millennium Forum.

Her doctorate research was to identify factors associated with resilience or burnout in child protection social work but Dr McFadden said the recommendations, which emphasize the importance of individual and organisational aspects that lead to either resilience or burnout, can be applied to any area of social work practice. A need for continuing personal development and self-awareness training are important at the individual level and issues like workload, supervision and management are significant organisational issues that need addressed.

A growing concern in child protection social work has been the level of inexperience in teams due to high turnover of child protection social workers and a lack of vacancies in other areas of social work practice.More recently, the economic downturn coupled with a freeze on recruitment, has led to a degree of ‘undesired” retention with people staying in post due to a lack of job alternatives and an economic reliance on their income.

Dr McFadden suggested that organisations invest in personal development training for both management and staff.

“Manager support and person centred supervision is needed to develop in order to build resilience into the workforce. The manager is the critical player in nurturing the early career social workers and experiences at this formative point in the social work career can have a lasting effect on the person’s professional resilience.

She continued:

“There needs to be a life time commitment to personal development and a shared emphasis between employers and individuals about building personal and professional resilience, however, workload pressures and organisational culture and climate need to be recognised as critical in their contribution to the experiences of workers.

The DHSSPSNI are committed to building workforce capacity and this is a declared objective of the Review of Social Work, 2012-22. The timing of this study is impeccable and the results will help inform policy around recruitment and retention of social workers and help to prepare the workforce for the challenges that are ahead.”

Originally from Creggan in Derry, Dr McFadden is the daughter of Isobel and the late Michael McLaughlin. She is married to Sean and they have two daughters Molly (15 years) and Emily (11 years). Paula returned to education as a “mature student” at the age of 25 and graduated with her first degree in social work from the University of Ulster in 1993.