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Pitfalls for practitioners 1

Case records are out of date

Ensuring that case records are up to date often appears to be one of the most difficult and time-consuming challenges facing practitioners. The importance of accurate and up-to-date records is highlighted in the findings of Inspection and Inquiry reports.

'In the Richard Fraser case it was not possible to determine with accuracy how regularly the social worker visited the family, and in the Jasmine Beckford case to judge whether or not the child had in fact been seen' 1. 'Numerous inquiries in the past have called for higher standards of case recording and the more thorough maintenance of case files by professionals from all agencies involved in the welfare of children. In view of the regularity with which deficiencies in this regard have been identified, it is disappointing to find them repeated with such regularity throughout Victoria's case.' 2

'While they (case records) may provide an important tool for the worker managing the case, they are as much for the use of others' 3.

The practitioner does not see recording as a high priority activity

Social work is a complex job and practitioners have to manage a number of competing, and often conflicting, demands on their time. Recording, which involves no direct contact with service users, is therefore, viewed by some practitioners as a low priority activity 4 or indeed as a necessary evil 5. The tendency to view recording as a low status activity is increased when practitioners believe that recording is kept to meet the needs of management and has little or no relevance to their practice with families 6.

When recording is viewed as unimportant or unrelated to practice, it is easy for the practitioner to justify putting off recording.

However, although records do not always reflect the degree and complexity of the work undertaken by practitioners, the link between recording and practice is well-established 7.

Recording is unplanned

Although practitioners and managers were generally in agreement that major record keeping problems were caused by a lack of time, 'Few workers knew how much time they actually spent on record keeping or could estimate how much time it would take to keep their records up to date' 8.

Research studies have reported that practitioners spend as little as 10 percent and as much as 60 percent of their time on recording 9. Because practitioners and managers are unclear about the time required for recording it is often unplanned and subject to interruption 10.

Creating time to write records recording does not mean planning to record during quiet periods on ''duty' or 'intake' days. Experience suggests that such days are few and far between. Indeed, often when faced with a pile of files awaiting records, interruptions may be actively sought.

Planning record keeping means identifying when recording can be completed without, or at least with the minimum of, interruptions.

Avoid the pitfall

  • Recognise that recording is an important task, not just for the agency but for the service user or carer.
  • See recording as an integral and important part of your practice.
  • Plan your recording. Allocate time to record and minimise interruptions and diversions.
  • Record information as you go along. Keeping information in your head to record at a later date may result in key information being forgotten.
  • Allowing recording in complex cases to accumulate can result in you being confronted by a seemingly impossible amount of paper work.
  • When planning a significant contact with a family or individual include recording as part of your time allocation.

Activity

Use Audit Sheet 1 (Microsoft Word format) to audit your cases

References

1. Edwards R and Reid W (1989) Structured case recording in child welfare: An assessment of social workers' reactions. Social Work, 34: 49-52. Kagle J D (1982) Social work records in health and mental health organisations: A status report. Social Work in Health Care 8: 37-46. Kagle J D (1984) Restoring the Clinical Record. Social Work. 19:46-50. Kagle, J.D (1993) Record Keeping for the 1990s. Social Work 38: 190 -196.

2. Laming (2003) The Victoria Climbie Inquiry Report HMSO, London p208

3. Kagle J D (1993) Record Keeping for the 1990s. Social Work 38: 190 -196.

4. Kagle J D (1993) Record Keeping for the 1990s. Social Work 38: 190 -196.

5. Department of Health (1991) Child Abuse: A Study of Inquiry Reports 1980 1989. HMSO, London.

6. Department of Health (1991) Child Abuse: A Study of Inquiry Reports 1980 1989. HMSO, London.

7. Kagle J D (1993) Record Keeping for the 1990s. Social Work 38: 190 -196. Ames N (1999) Social Work Recording: A New Look at an Old Issue. Journal of Social Work Education  35 227-236.

8. Ames N (1999) Social Work Recording: A New Look at an Old Issue. Journal of Social Work Education  35 227-236.

9. Gelman S R (1992) Risk management through client access to case records. Social Work 37 73-79.

10. Holbrook T (1983) Case records: fact or fiction? Social Services Review  57 645-658.

 

 
 
 
By Steve Walker, David Shemmings and Hedy Cleaver
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