Can successful healthcare programme help social workers too?

28 January 2019

Social work is a demanding profession. Working with children and families in the most challenging and deprived circumstances, developing positive relationships under pressure, responding to need, harm, risk and trauma, and often with fewer resources and less time than you really need – it is perhaps of little surprise that so many social workers report feeling stressed at work, with many saying they feel unable to cope and needing to take time off.

But does it have to be this way? One is reminded of the decidedly un-PC saying, ‘you don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps’. You don’t have to be stressed to be a social worker – so let’s make sure you get the right help and support instead. Finding out ‘what works’ (and how, for who, and in what circumstances) to improve the well-being of social workers is a key priority area for the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care and follows our recent call for research study ideas aimed at helping people working in children’s social care, especially social workers, to be happier and healthier. And it is with this in mind that we are now calling for local authorities and Trusts to work with us, to test the feasibility of adapting Schwartz Rounds for social care.

Widely used in healthcare settings in the United States, the UK and elsewhere, Schwartz Rounds offer a way of bringing people together, to share stories about their work and about themselves, and to listen to others doing the same. Schwarz Rounds, unlike many supervision sessions or other social care meetings, are not used for making decisions, revising care plans or setting goals. They offer, instead, a third space, a place for a different kind of discussion.

Every social worker knows there are times when you need to talk about things you have experienced at work, and how they have affected you personally, in all sorts of different ways. Equally, it can be just as valuable sometimes simply to listen to other people talk about their experiences. It can be incredibly validating and reassuring to know that you are not the only person to have gone through a difficult time at work, or to have reacted to something or someone in a particular way.

Evidence from the Point of Care Foundation shows that healthcare staff who attend regularly feel less stressed and less isolated.

We want to know whether similar results might be found in children’s social care. We want to see if Schwartz Rounds can help social workers feel more supported in their jobs, allowing time and space to think and reflect. If you are interested in taking part in this study, please take a look at the linked information pack below and if you would like to apply to be part of this exciting research project, complete the application form for submission by no later than midday on 18 February.

Schwartz Rounds &€“ evaluation plan
Schwartz Rounds Application Form

Deadline: applications should be emailed to by noon 18 February 2019.
To talk with us about your application, please contact CASCADE, Cardiff:
Telephone: 02922 510 943, Email:

A word from Julian Groves, Point of Care Foundation
Schwartz Rounds are a unique forum in which people delivering care can come together and reflect on their experiences. They have a simple aim: to support staff well-being, build empathy and compassion across organisations, and improve the quality of care.

How they work is also quite simple. Meetings are held monthly, usually at lunchtime with some food provided. They are open to all staff – medical, administrative and executive. Sessions are led by a facilitator and clinical lead, and are structured around three short presentations from colleagues reflecting on an experience they have been through in their work. Usually these are connected by a common theme – such as ‘a patient I’ll never forget’, or ‘a good day’ – and they are followed by an open discussion where anyone who wishes to can respond and share their own experiences.

The simplicity of the model belies its effectiveness. Evidence has shown that people who attend Rounds regularly are about half as likely to suffer psychological distress as their non-attending colleagues.
For individuals this is clearly good news – and the feedback we receive from people involved in Rounds shows the huge value people place on them.

At a system level, the impacts are harder to measure, but it’s worth reflecting on the statistics on stress and burnout among NHS staff, which make stark reading. There is some variance by job and organisation type, but the NHS’s figures show that staff throughout the system are taking more stress-related absences, reporting higher levels of bullying, and reporting more pressure to come to work when they aren’t well. Many staff are voting with their feet and leaving the service altogether. Properly taking care of staff has to be part of the solution to this national problem.

Connected with positive outcomes for staff is improved care. This link has been at the heart of the Schwartz model since it was first developed by the Boston-based Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, in the 1990s. Kenneth Schwartz, the organisation’s founder, died in 1995 from lung cancer. Through his illness he had written movingly of the way that healthcare professionals, while unable to cure his disease, made the unbearable bearable by showing small human touches towards him.

So Schwartz Rounds are about more than just looking after staff (important thought that is). At their root is the objective of supporting better care for patients.

To bring the story up to date, Rounds were introduced to the UK and Ireland in 2009 by the Point of Care Foundation, which provides training for facilitators and supports the process of establishing Rounds at organisations. They are now in regular use at about 200 health organisations (largely hospital trusts, GP surgeries and hospices).

Based on what we have seen of their impact, we believe Rounds can offer benefits to people beyond the healthcare sector. Many of the challenges we find in the NHS – staff struggling to give their best in a difficult system, undertaking work that has huge emotional impact but perhaps without the space to reflect and process the affect the work is having on them – are just as prevalent in other services. And the need to support compassionate care is not limited to health services.

For this reason, we are excited to be joining with the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care to pilot Schwartz Rounds in children’s social care organisations. We think Rounds could have great impact for individuals and organisations in social care, and the pilots will enable the What Works Centre to evaluate this.

David Wilkins is Assistant Director / Senior Lecturer at CASCADE, the Centre’s research partner

Julian Groves is Head of Staff Experience Programmes and Resources at the Point of Care Foundation