Stress epidemic among social workers leads to 24 days sick leave a year

Social workers face an epidemic of stress after the Baby P scandal, according to unions and council managers.

The warning comes as one of the UK’s biggest social work departments said its staff were signed off sick for an average of five weeks each year, the Guardian has reported.

Staff in Birmingham are signed off ill for an average of 24.9 days a year – almost three-and-a-half times the national average for all industries.

Nationally, 10% of social workers took more than 20 days sick leave every 12 months, according to separate research.

Colin Tucker, head of children’s services at Birmingham, warned that stress – anxiety or depression – was the biggest single factor for absences.

Matters had worsened since social workers in Haringey, north London, failed to save the life of baby Peter Connolly, who died in August 2007 after physical abuse which went unnoticed by the authorities, he said.

“What the Baby Peter situation has done is cause a loss of nerve among other agencies, which is reflected in a much higher level of referrals to the child protection team. In one area, Aston, just one team alone now deals with more than 700 referrals a month,” Tucker said.

Helga Pile, national officer for social workers at Unison, which represents many social workers, said: “Since the Baby Peter case there have been many more referrals involving court appearances. Because of the pressure of work a lot of staff end up preparing court papers at home, or even on holiday. It’s something that just absolutely has to be done before you stand up in front of a judge.”

The case had also led to “a marked increase in the level of hostility” suffered by social workers, Pile added.

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