The majority of childcare social workers in Northern Ireland spend less than a third of their working week with young people, new research has indicated.
The rest of their time is taken up with paperwork and other administrative tasks, according to figures compiled by the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers.
Of the NIASW members questioned for the survey, 94% said they would like to spend more time with children and families.
But three out of four social workers surveyed said they were already working between 20 to 60 extra hours a month.
Two thirds of the respondents said direct client contact accounted for less than 30% of their working week.
The NIASW said the situation was caused by the combination of a growing demand for services and a reduction in administration staff.
It has called on Stormont’s Health department to take action to reduce the bureaucratic workload facing social workers as part of its 10-year strategy on social work.
NIASW manager Carolyn Ewart said: “It is not right that we have social workers, who really do want to help vulnerable people, sitting behind desks inputting data and writing reports rather than spending more time with children in need or at risk.
“It is clear from the findings that to keep children safe social workers are putting in many hours of unpaid overtime. Many are going the extra mile for vulnerable families.
“This survey highlights a profession under extreme pressure which is totally unacceptable.
“Our social workers want to see children and families more and to offer preventative and therapeutic work rather than spend their time sitting in front of a computer screen.
“With the first ever Social Work Strategy, which highlights bureaucracy as an issue, NIASW wants to work with the government and other agencies to implement the recommendations.
“NIASW are calling for effective measures to be put in place to reduce the level of bureaucracy and free up time to do social work not paperwork”.
A total of 149 social workers responded to the NIASW survey, 132 working with health trusts and 17 in the voluntary sector.
A spokesman for Health Minister Edwin Poots’s department said: “Direct work with children is a vital part of a social worker’s role. It is particularly important that social workers make time to listen to children.
“However, it is also important that social workers are properly accountable for their actions and that they share information with others to achieve the best outcomes for children.
“Inevitably this means that they have to spend some time writing things down. What matters is getting the balance right. That is one of the reasons the minister launched Northern Ireland’s first social work strategy earlier this year.
“One of the first steps in implementing this strategy will be to review practice and reporting arrangements to streamline processes and eliminate unnecessary paperwork.”