As warnings go, it is a stark one; cut budgets in children’s social work and put vulnerable children at far greater risk of harm.
This is the headline message from a survey by BASW, conducted over the bank holiday weekend.
A massive 96.6% of respondents said they are concerned at the effects any cuts could have on already understaffed and overworked social workers. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs (such as Baby P effect sustained) vacancy rates in children’s social work departments are running nationally at about 10% and since Baby P the number of referrals to them has increased markedly. Any more cuts would exacerbate the situation.
This survey is obviously designed to act as a warning to government and local authority purse-string-holders who are currently scrabbling around trying to make billions of pounds worth of cuts – cut children’s social services at your peril. The more subtle subtext is that they would be effectively to blame if another Baby P occurred.
It’s also something of a pre-emptive strike by BASW; the coalition government hasn’t said much about children’s services yet, other than announcing the scrapping of ContactPoint and supporting the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force, and this has worried many in the sector, who fear that children’s service isn’t a priority and therefore a prime target for cuts.
While this was only a small survey – 151 respondents – and so by no means representative of the national picture, it does give an interesting snapshot of the continuing problems in children’s social work.
For instance, only 5% of child protection social workers say their team is fully staffed with permanent social workers, with more than half (52.5%) saying their team is understaffed by 30% or more and 13.1% saying it is by half or even more than that. More than 63% say that their department is understaffed, even with agency staff – who aren’t ideal because they are often short-term and don’t offer the continuity permanent staff do to vulnerable children.
For those in the sector, this will be nothing new. But that’s not really what matters here; it is whether it makes an impression on those who control the money – and I suspect it won’t. A lot of uncomfortable fiscal decisions will be made in the coming weeks and children’s services may well find its budget squeezed, as will many other sectors who also view their funding as crucial.
I’m not saying I agree with this, but this is what I suspect will happen, and there is little that I can see that can be done to stop it.
If budgets are cut, obviously children’s social workers will continue to do their best, but it stands to reason that it would raise the chances of another tragedy along the lines of Baby P happening – you can’t easily do more with less.
If a tragedy were to occur, it would raise some very challenging questions, not only of the profession, but also of government this time.