A 15-month-long research project was carried out to understand how social workers deal with the relationships they have with children and families, and in what ways these relationships are impacted by organizational culture, office design and staff support. Similarly, these factors were analysed in terms of their effect on social work practitioners. The research, published in the Child and Family Social Work Journal, helps to shift perspectives about what social workers do and recognizes their contributions, despite years of austerity, in order to move away from deficient understandings of the practice.
What makes the study valuable, even with its limitations — small sample size and different case samples — is the actual interaction between social workers, children and families that have been examined. The research was conducted by a team from Birmingham, Lancaster, Northumbria and Nottingham universities, and the University of Auckland, New Zealand, who took part in the activities of social care workers at two local sites: one small office and one larger, hot-desking site. There were significant differences between the two work places:
- Greater satisfaction and higher retention rates were found among the members of the smaller social work team.
- The availability of co-located family support workers and team managers contributes to a reflective, sustaining and effective organizational environment. Co-location develops thriving working conditions due to the possibility to hold regular, informal discussions about families. People experience more pleasure in such an environment.
- Higher turnover at the hot-desking social work office due to greater job-related responsibilities and individualistic organizational culture.
- A social model of child protection with family support services at its core is needed in both environments, and therefore, some consideration should be made as to how to move towards this goal.
- Practitioners do not record the time spent with children and families.
- The narrative that social work is a bureaucratised profession, organizing and storing documents or files, and having tight schedules supervised by the government has unpleasantly influenced the ways in which social workers view their profession. Therefore, there is a need for narrative revision.