It is a fact that social workers are often called on to do a great deal with very little. We are, as a profession, overworked and understaffed. This is a chronic problem that is made worse by staff churn within the field. The latest example of this problem is brought to us by Martin Espinoza in The Press Democrat. Espinoza writes of Sonoma County social workers who say that tight staffing in their department puts vulnerable children at risk.
“Sonoma County’s Child Protective Services agency is grappling with a severe staff shortage that has social workers claiming children’s lives could be in danger,” Espinoza explains. “They have been going before the county supervisors in recent weeks to call out the agency’s unsafe practices and raise public awareness of the problems resulting from not having enough people to handle the workload.”
The social workers in question say they can’t ensure the safety of children in their charge because they are staffed at only 80 percent of what they need. Cases are being left incomplete, Espinoza reports, while the department has been forced to take a “fire fighting” approach. This results in treating the most dire emergency cases while leaving the rest to get worse. The result is that problems that could be preempted or alleviated in their early stages must instead turn into emergencies before they, in turn, can be dealt with… and that might be too little, too late.
“County officials acknowledge the shortage of social workers, going so far as to call it a ‘crisis,’” writes Espinoza. “But officials said they’ve taken steps, such as staff reassignments, to ensure the most at-risk children are not being left in dangerous home situations.”
Sonoma County’s officials quite rightly point out, as Espinoza reports, that the shortage is not unique to Sonoma County. A shortage of social workers is felt on the state and national level. It’s a problem everywhere — with too many social work professionals trying to do the work of multiple people, often without enough resources to support those efforts. And while the work that is done is laudable and the social workers involved should be commended, no system strained like this is or should be sustainable in the long term.
Only when applicable governments take the social worker shortage seriously, and allocate the funds and the recruiting efforts to addressing them, will the problem get better. In the meantime, countless social workers must struggle to do their jobs and protect their clients while always feeling like they’re behind the curve.
What about you? Have you ever felt overwhelmed on the job? How do you cope… and do you think about leaving the field because of it? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us now.