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DerbyChildren's Social Care Procedures Manual

1.1.10 Social Work Allocation

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter contains information on the Derby City Council Policy for the allocation of social work cases. It explains the process for allocating cases, and how worker's case loads are monitored and managed. It also contains guidance for workers on managing their workloads effectively, including simple tips to save time and increase efficiency.

This chapter was added to the procedures manual in November 2015.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was reviewed in May 2016. Section 9, Cases Awaiting Allocation to a Social Worker or Child Practitioner was updated to include the following: Only the children requiring a service will be open cases within sibling groups. Any siblings not directly being worked with will be closed following assessment.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What Can Social Workers Expect?
  3. Workload Management Tool
  4. Supervision
  5. Making Workload Management Work
  6. Establishing the Right Culture
  7. Case Planning and Monitoring
  8. Timely Closure of Cases
  9. Cases Awaiting Allocation to a Social Worker or Child Practitioner
  10. Process for managing cases awaiting allocation within Child Care Teams
  11. Appendix 1: Simple Tips to Save Time and Increase Efficiency

1. Introduction

It is recognised that social workers can only do the quality of work that they want to do and the service needs them to do if their caseloads are actively managed and maintained at a reasonable level. The importance of achieving a healthy work/life balance is a pre-requisite for a healthy and contented workforce. Individuals and their managers both have a responsibility to try to achieve an optimum balance. It is the nature of social work that demand is frequently unpredictable and unexpected. This is unlikely to change. Consequently, we need social workers who are essentially flexible, responsive people. It is a core activity of all team managers that they should know about and manage the changing demands on team members' time.

2. What can Social Workers expect?

  • Casework allocation will always take place directly either in 1:1 sessions or in team meetings;
  • Within the demands of the service, which must always take precedence, allocation will pay full regard to the interests and professional developmental needs of individual practitioners;
  • Allocation will reflect the needs of newly qualified staff, those returning from extended absences and other individual circumstances;
  • Managers will explore the opportunities to jointly allocate work and/or to identify some activities as lending themselves to co-working as a way of sharing different skills and experiences.

3. Workload Management Tool

The Children and Young People's Department does not employ a strict caseload management system because demands are too fluid to impose any workable system onto them. However, to assist managers to allocate work fairly and equally, a crude tool is used on a bi-monthly basis which takes account of numbers of children on social worker's caseloads and the relative complexity of those cases. This gives managers a broad idea about pressures in their service areas and where there is likely to be space for further allocations. The data from the tool is regularly considered at the Deputy Head of Service Management meeting so that caseloads can be balanced between service areas. Caseloads for ASYEs are expected to be lower, a 10% reduction in their caseload compared to a more experienced social worker. When caseloads are becoming unmanageable, additional support is provided to the case-holding practitioner as required, cases are reallocated or new referrals directed elsewhere.

4. Supervision

There is an inextricable link between workload management and supervision. The overall purpose of supervision is to enhance the standards of work undertaken so that, in turn, vulnerable children will have an improved quality of life. However, in its widest sense, supervision includes discussion of workload (caseload and other activity), consultancy and professional development. One essential element of the supervision process is to meet managerial and administrative needs by assisting with workload and caseload management. It also provides essential monitoring of day-to-day work activity to ensure that it continues to be in line with the priorities and policies of the Service and the Council. There is a clear expectation within the Service that supervision should happen for all staff on a planned and regular basis. 

4.1 Supervision and Workload Management

In supervision, the worker and supervisor will focus on planning and discussion about workload to include allocation of new cases and pieces of work, discussion of on-going cases held or tasks/projects being undertaken, progress made, closure, etc.

Effective Workload Management helps staff to organise and plan their work in order to deliver the best possible services for those who require it. There is, of course, an expectation that all workers will manage their own work to some extent, using their own diaries to plan and prioritise.

In supervision, Team Managers will:

  • Assist staff to organise, plan and prioritise their work;
  • Promote the provision of an efficient and effective service;
  • Set and regularly review visiting frequencies in line with the child's plan;
  • Ensure the timely and efficient closure of cases;
  • Ration and effectively target limited resources;
  • Achieve equity in the allocation of workload.

5. Making Workload Management Work

  • Management and protection of time;

In order for social workers to work efficiently, it is necessary for them to manage their time very effectively.

There are a number of fairly simple ways that this can be done (see Appendix 1: Simple Tips to Save Time and Increase Efficiency).

These are very easy and simple practices which can really increase efficiency. The Council requires all staff to make best use of resources and work cost-effectively. 

  • Maximising the use of IT;

The effective use of computers can help at a number of levels to make staff more efficient.

  • Use of video and teleconferencing;

Increasingly, areas now have access to videoconferencing facilities. Whilst it is important to stress that videoconferencing would never take the place of all face to face meetings, greater use of these facilities should be encouraged. Videoconferencing is especially helpful in enabling people to be brought together from large distances and work best in situations where individuals are fairly well known to each other. The facility can be used fairly cheaply for internal meetings and for meetings which require participation from a number of different agencies.

  • Scheduling visits and planning journeys;

First of all, social workers and managers should question whether a visit is necessary. In many cases it will be but in some, there may be other ways of establishing and maintaining contact. Scheduling a number of home visits within one geographical area is a very simple means of cutting down significantly on travel time and mileage costs. To do this effectively requires managers and staff to plan ahead to avoid duplication and to ensure that journeys to one area are undertaken in a manner that maximises the numbers of visits possible. It may be particularly helpful for the Children in Care Service to allocated children placed out of the City, and in the same general direction, to the same worker.

  • Protected time;

Managers and social workers are encouraged to plan for and identify time when they can undertake report writing, recording and generally keep up to date with administrative tasks. Where agreed, staff can regularly work from home to undertake these activities.

6. Establishing the Right Culture

The significance and effect of culture in the workforce cannot be under-estimated. The importance of achieving a healthy work/life balance is necessary for a healthy and contented workforce. Individuals and their managers both have a responsibility to try to achieve an optimum balance. It is the nature of social work that demand is frequently unpredictable and unexpected. This is unlikely to change. Consequently, we need social workers who are essentially flexible, responsive people. There is a general acceptance that there will be times when social workers need to work outside of normal hours. Research is clear that it is not necessarily those who work the longest hours who are the most productive. Team Managers should monitor flexi-time sheets and encourage staff to take regular periods of leave across the leave year.

7. Case Planning and Monitoring

Case planning should be an activity undertaken routinely by all workers and their managers in order to ensure that time and expertise are used to maximum effect.

8. Timely Closure of Cases

The satisfaction of meeting the objectives of a care plan and closing a case should not be underestimated. It is good for staff and it is good for service-users to see that progress is achieved and targets have been met. Where cases are not ready for closure, it is important for social workers to agree with their managers why the case should remain open in terms of eligibility criteria.

There may sometimes be a tendency to keep cases open for longer than necessary. The overall aim is to achieve absolute clarity as to the reason why each case remains open. There should not be cases remaining open "just in case."

To be successful, this approach is dependent on each case having a clear plan to direct the intervention and to inform the type and level of service offered. Regular and robust reviewing processes are therefore key to its success.

In closing cases, there must be a full acceptance that some may be re-referred at a later date. However, we should close cases on the basis that they do not need our resources now and take action to re-open them when we are certain that they require us to do so.

9. Cases Awaiting allocation to a social worker or Child Practitioner

Principles

  1. All LAC and CPP cases will be allocated to a suitably qualified and experienced worker;
  2. All Team Managers will regularly review children's plans with staff during supervision and set clear timescales for agreed work. Statutory visit compliance will be checked;
  3. Only the children requiring a service will be open cases within sibling groups. Any siblings not directly being worked with will be closed following assessment;
  4. All workers in Child Care Teams have a full caseload as per their qualifications and experience;
  5. The DHOS will compile one unallocated list at the end of each month and meetings will take place each month in order to track, monitor and to allocate the work. The completed list will be sent to the Head of Service on first working day of the month;
  6. TM & DHOS risk assess all unallocated work using the grid above.

10. Process for managing cases awaiting allocation within Child Care Teams

  1. Upon receiving a non-LAC/CP case that cannot be allocated to a worker the case must be allocated to a nominated manager to oversee. A case note should be added to this effect by the team manager. Team Managers must send a letter to the family and other involved agencies within five working days of the case arriving. This letter should include details regarding who to contact in the event of any issues, etc. A risk assessment form must be completed and case note made by manager regarding this;
  2. In the event of a Team Manager receiving notification from reception/ VCM regarding the transfer of a LAC/CPP case and the manager predicts difficulty in allocation, immediate discussion must take place with the respective DHOS in order to agree how/where allocation can be achieved;
  3. Where non-LAC/CP cases remain unallocated for two months, a duty visit will be made to family to update situation. Following this the manager must update the risk assessment and add to case notes. Consideration should be given as to whether the service is still required and if appropriate to step down to EH;
  4. A further letter will be sent by the Team Manager updating the family of the situation giving, where possible, predicted date of allocation. Discussion regarding unallocated cases will be a standing item in Team Manager Supervision sessions;
  5. DHOS to audit all cases unallocated for more than 2 months & before 3 months & confirm this has been done with a date in the table above, Further consideration as to  whether case can be worked at EH level should be undertaken.

Appendix 1: Simple Tips to Save Time and Increase Efficiency

  • Cut down on time and save money by planning visits to maximise the number of service-users seen or meetings undertaken;
  • Maximise the use of functions on lap tops and Liquid Logic to ensure efficient reminders of things that need to be done;
  • Maintain an up-to-date 'To do' list;
  • Ensure all cases are effectively reviewed to ensure that resources are properly targeted;
  • Use Casework Support Officers to undertake administrative tasks appropriate to their role;
  • Book statutory visits into diaries well in advance;
  • Be a 'completer / finisher' – avoid drifting from one task to another before completing them;
  • Take work / lap tops to Court, so that time isn't wasted whilst awaiting hearings;
  • Write up records quickly after the events / visits – you are quicker when events are fresh in your memory;
  • Don't go on joint visits with colleagues unless you are asked to do so by a manager;
  • Limit talk about non-work related issues in the office – you are stopping yourself and your colleagues from working.