Safe staffing and workload management in social work: a scoping review of legislation, policy and practice

Paula McFadden, Hannah Davies, Jill Manthorpe, Justin MacLochlainn, Susan McGrory, Rachel Naylor, John Mallet, Karen Kirby, Denise Currie, Heike Schröder, Patricia Nicholl, Judith Mullineux, Mary McColgan

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In Northern Ireland, social work-specific legislation is planned for safe staffing across the governmental sector. As part of a broader research project to inform this development, we conducted a scoping review seeking examples of safe staffing definitions, safe staffing-related legislation, policy and practice in social work and associated professions from the UK and internationally. We searched English language databases in 2023 websites and reference lists as well as grey literature. Finding no international examples of social work-specific safe staffing definitions, legislation, or policy outside of Children’s Services, we offer a tentative definition to the current debate. Our scoping review found examples of individual social workers and local teams developing caseload management practices to promote ‘safer’ working, which may be useful for policymakers and regulators to consider. However, these need greater conceptual clarity, consensus over definitions and outcomes, and evaluation for cost-effectiveness. Given the limited evidence in this area, recommendations include the need for further research to ascertain what ‘safe staffing’ does, can and should mean in social work and what can work in different contexts and at different levels of policy and practice to inform service user and social worker safety in social work.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Early online date22 Feb 2024
Publication statusEarly online date - 22 Feb 2024


  • legislation
  • policy
  • safe staffing
  • Scoping review
  • social work


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