Social workers often stressed by work load
Life situations of clients becoming increasingly complicated
Feelings of work-related stress are alarmingly great among Finnish social workers, says researcher, Dr. Arttu Saarinen. He says that in addition to stress, social workers are troubled by the contradictory nature of their work.
The contradictions are often the result of feelings among the workers that while they are expected to help their clients in conflicts with the authorities, they also have the role of imposing certain societal norms on the people that they assist.
"The situation is especially tense in child protection, when the workers have to take the interests of the child into consideration, as well as the position of the parents", Saarinen says.
Saarinen has studied the experiences of social workers in the Nordic region together with Helena Blomberg and Christian Kroll.
The study is based on material from over 5,000 respondents. An article based on part of his study is being published today, Friday.
Finland differs significantly from the other Nordic Countries. In Finland, 62.5 per cent of women working as social workers, and half of the men felt that they were seriously burdened in their work.
In the other Nordic Countries, less than 40 per cent felt seriously overburdened. In Denmark the figure among women was slightly higher – 43.8 per cent.
Saarinen sees a number of explanations for the situation in Finland. One is that fewer resources are dedicated to social work in Finland than in the other Nordic Countries.
The economic situations of many municipalities are somewhat weak, and there is a constant shortage of resources. Underqualified employees are taken in to work as substitutes, increasing the burden on the fully qualified ones who have to take on more responsibility.
Saarinen says that the mindset that took hold in the recession years of the 1990s remains in force in many municipalities.
Senior social worker Petri Peltola of the Helsinki Social Services Department agrees with the findings.
"We are constantly dealing with demanding matters. Issues have become more complicated the whole time, and the situations of the clients have become more splintered."
"The economic resources are usually meagre, and lack of time is also a problem. There is not enough time to attend to the clients’ problems as we would want to."
In Helsinki, social workers dealing with matters related to income supplements have about 100 clients each.
"Helsinki has certain special characteristics that do not exist in all Finnish municipalities. These include immigration and related questions, as well as homelessness, which has increased."
"Social work is one of the most demanding jobs for those dealing with clients. It is very intense. Matters cannot be postponed, or passed on to others to deal with. However, training and skills brought on by experience help."
Previously in HS International Edition:
Homicide of 8-year-old sparks police investigation into possible negligence by child welfare officials (3.9.2012)
Help often comes too late for troubled families (30.4.2012)
Former foster child wants child welfare officials to listen more to what children say (5.9.2012)