Social work employers and educators must do more to ensure practitioners are supported in handling emotional distress, according to sector leaders.
Speaking at Community Care Live on the issue last week, Paul Angeli, assistant director of children’s social care and youth inclusion at the London Borough of Merton, said emotional distress was at the core of all social work, but employers and managers did not take it seriously enough.
“Distress is the stuff of social work and if it’s not then I don’t know what is, because when you hear a distressed child or a vulnerable adult, if you’re not hearing that distress than as a social worker what is your job? What are you doing? Your job is to help them manage their distress. In order to do that social workers internalise that distress so they can help that person make sense of it. So I would say the management of emotional distress is at the core of social work practice.”
He said senior managers often switched off from it as part of an organisational defensiveness because they weren’t sure what else to do. Instead they should be ensuring they were noticing social workers in distress and the organisation was equipped and able to help them manage it.
He added that emotional distress did not just have a mental impact on workers but there was often a physical impact as well from adrenalin, anxiety and feeling tense.
“If that social worker ends up carrying that distress around with them for days, weeks, even months then surprise, surprise they’re probably going to start looking for another job or even look to leave the profession.”