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Exploring Emotional Demands at Work

Emotional Intelligence in Social Work Study

We received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) from 2012 to 2015 to examine emotional demands in child and family social work. This project is complete and findings are available below.


Please download the Research Briefing.

Slides from the Centre for Children and Families launch conference on 28 June 2016 for social work practitioners are available for download below:

Emotional demands and Emotional Intelligence training

Coping Strategies and team support

Community Care Inform created an animation to highlight effective coping strategies which can be viewed here

Description of study

We received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) from 2012 to 2015 to examine emotional demands in child and family social work. The project had two phases: the first phase examined the characteristics of good child and family social work practice with the aim of developing a practice tool for research and continuing professional development. The second phase evaluated whether emotional skills training influences social worker burnout and/ or practice.

Image showing an adult and group of small children constructing a jigsaw together

Phase 1 - Characteristics of good social work practice

The Munro Review 2011 of Social Work highlighted that an effective local social work service would have the following characteristics:

1.  A clear understanding of the capabilities required by staff, based on theory and best practice evidence 

2.  Comprehensive and sufficiently resourced professional development activity to give practitioners the necessary skills set and effect positive and demonstrable change in children and families

To address the first point made by Munro, our study examined what capabilities are considered to be important for good child and family social work practice according to a range of different stakeholder groups: social workers, social work managers, service users and social work educators. We held focus groups in all these groups and found nine domains (Knowledge, Communication, Casework skills, Emotion Management, Relationships, Values, Professional Role, Work-time Management). We then mapped these domains onto the Professional Capabilities Framework to see where there were overlaps and gaps. From this we have developed a questionnaire to reflect the nine domains and are currently developing this further across local authorities in England.

Phase 2 - Emotional demands of child and family social work and emotional skills training

To address the second point made in the Munro Report 2011, our study evaluated an emotional skills training intervention for child and family social workers. Social work is an emotionally demanding profession and we were interested to see if emotion skills training could mitigate the negative effects of stress and burnout and predict relationship focused elements of practice.

‘... social work and social care are essentially relationship-based practices…[which] can only be conducted with skill and compassion if the worker is emotionally intelligent' (Howe, 2008, p.181).