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Self Care is a Requirement

Ensuring the self care of social work staff is an organisational requirement. No matter which way you look at it, social work organisations are required to look out for the safety and wellbeing of their staff. It is a basic occupational health and safety requirement, and it is also one many organisations are failing.

Every day we meet with social workers who are burning out. Caseloads are too high and ever more complex, staff are working longer hours some even without pay and to top it off we are having to defend our jobs everywhere. Many staff feel that they can’t take holidays and many managers would prefer if they didn’t. Taking a mental health day is getting harder and of course there is a form to fill out. In short, our sector is feeling the increasing strain brought about by the neoliberalist agenda.

So what’s the solution? Revolution! As a sector we need to stop blindly following in the ways which have got us in this position. We need to find the difference. Start by making sure the organisation you work for have clear policies about staff care. If they don’t lobby for them. Put self care in your work plan. Bring it up in supervision sessions. Take your allocated holidays and advocate for more, one great organisation we know gives staff a week for reflection. Bring self care up at staff meetings.

According to the article Transforming Compassion Fatigue into Compassion Satisfaction: Top 12 Self-Care Tips for Helpers:

Dr Charles Figley, world renowned trauma expert and pioneer researcher in the field of helper burnout has called compassion fatigue a “disorder that affects those who do their work well” (1995) It is characterized by deep emotional and physical exhaustion, symptoms resembling depression and PTSD and by a shift in the helper’s sense of hope and optimism about the future and the value of their work.

The level of compassion fatigue a helper experiences can ebb and flow from one day to the next, and even very healthy helpers with optimal life/work balance and self care strategies can experience a higher than normal level of compassion fatigue when they are overloaded, are working with a lot of traumatic content, or find their case load suddenly heavy with clients who are all chronically in crisis.

Compassion fatigue can strike the most caring and dedicated nurses, social workers, physicians and personal support workers alike. These changes can affect both their personal and professional lives with symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, intrusive imagery, loss of hope, exhaustion and irritability. It can also lead to profound shifts in the way helpers view the world and their loved ones. Additionally, helpers may become dispirited and increasingly cynical at work, they may make clinical errors, violate client boundaries, lose a respectful stance towards their clients and contribute to a toxic work environment. Read Full Article

If you are a manager, it is your responsibility to make sure your staff are looked after. We all know that the better staff are treated the more they perform. If you are a frontline worker you must look after yourself. If you don’t you are doing a disservice to your clients and ultimately the profession of social work.

Written by Aaron Garth

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Aaron Garth is a degree qualified youth worker and a masters qualified social worker. He is married with five children including identical twins. Aaron is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker, an Australian company that provides support & professional development opportunities for youth workers to build and maintain longevity in the sector.

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