Tag Archives: children’s social worker

Children’s social workers warn of increased risk if services are cut

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under children's social work, Social care funding

Baby P effect sustained

For about a year now, social workers have been talking about the ‘Baby P effect’ – the rise in applications for children to be taken into care. While many thought it would be a temporary blip, which would die down when the furore over the case did, it is proving to be sustained.

Care demand from April to December 2009 was 46.1% higher than the same period in 2008, according to Cafcass, the organisation that represents children’s interests in the family courts. November 2009 saw 753 care applications – the third highest monthly figure since Cafcass records began in 2005.

Not only this, but Cafcass reports that applications are starting to stabilise at this higher level.

These figures can be viewed as something of a double-edged sword. On the plus side, it means more children are being protected and not left in potentially harmful situations.

Also, while this news could be grist to the mill of the anti-children’s social work brigade – those who perceive children’s social workers as child snatchers – a Cafcass survey also concluded that local authorities had taken the appropriate action in making the applications. While the survey did attribute the increases to the Baby P effect, it doesn’t mean that they are making spurious applications.

It also should be remembered that this still represents a tiny minority of the children who come into contact with social services.

But, as ever, there is a downside. And, as usual, it’s money, or the lack of it; the Local Government Association estimates that the cost of taking children into care will rise by £226 million this financial year.

With local authorities already tightening their budgets in anticipation of swingeing cuts in 2011, and also having to find £250 million in ‘efficiency savings’ to fund the government’s free personal care at home policy, this is extra expenditure they can literally ill afford.

Ironically, there is talk of early intervention schemes being cut to pay for the increase in children being taken into care – which could cause more problems than it solves, given that prevention is usually better (and cheaper) than cure.

However, what cannot be allowed to happen is social workers avoiding, or being discouraged from, making applications because of cost concerns. There was anecdotal talk of this happening in some local authorities pre-Baby P and it cannot happen again.

Child protection is paramount and local authorities – and government – need to find the resources to do this without impacting on other services. But whether they will, or can, is another matter.

2 Comments

Filed under children's social work, Social care funding

Recruitment drive paying off for social services

This will be music to the ears of beleaguered HR officers in children’s social services departments; 40,000 people have registered an interest to join the profession since last September.

Figures from the Children’s Workforce Development Council  demonstrate that the government’s recruitment drive – launched in the wake of the Laming Review last year, along with a national PR campaign – is starting to pay dividends.

Called Be The Difference, the campaign has run – and is currently running again – on the major commercial terrestrial channels and Sky, complemented by radio, print, cinema and billboard advertising.

The campaign has painted social work in a positive light – heavily sugar coating it, some cynics in the sector have said to me – and the difference it can make to children’s lives. And it seems to have worked, judging by these figures – indeed, 5,000 signed up in one day earlier in the month.

While some of those who have signed up won’t make it to, or through, the social work course, it is still a significant boost to ordinary recruitment levels.

Of course, it will still be some time before any of these recruits are ready for the frontline – a postgraduate conversion course takes 2 years, for instance – but it indicates that the recruitment crisis, in children’s services at least, may start to ease in the foreseeable future.

While those struggling under mountainous caseloads may still say that this is too long to wait, it is nevertheless good news for everyone involved in children’s social work. If a majority of these eventually make it to the frontline, it will help to reduce workloads, enable social workers to dedicate more time to individual cases and, hopefully improve outcomes for service users.

Let’s hope this early evidence of the strategy making a difference convinces the powers that be to maintain this drive – in recruitment and other areas – so that it does deliver positive change to the sector in the next few years.

Leave a comment

Filed under children's social work

Children’s social services: impressive despite circumstances

It’s official: Council-run children’s social services departments in England are performing well, in general.

Ofsted has published its 2009 children’s services ratings and revealed that 68% of the 152 councils are performing ‘excellently’ or ‘well’, while another 25% are ‘adequate’.

Only 9 councils – 6% – are judged to be ‘poor’, including Haringey, which neatly avoids another media storm over Baby P.

While the media, inevitably, has thus far focused on the poorly performing councils, it could be argued that it is surprising that more children’s services departments are not failing.

Take Birmingham, for example, one of the councils deemed ‘poor’, much to their chagrin. There, about a fifth of the 722 posts in children’s services were unfulfilled, and absenteeism ran at 25 days per person, according to a report in the Birmingham Post. After some quick calculations in the office on the back of a Post-it, we worked out that about a third of the workforce was missing. Those that were present were dealing with 800 child abuse cases a month, so it’s no wonder the department was at breaking point.

While measures are now in place to improve matters in Birmingham, I doubt that its situation is unique. Nationally, vacancy levels are running at 9.5% of frontline posts in children and families teams, with 9.6% annual turnover of employees, according to the interim report by the Social Work Task Force. Sickness levels are also high – an average of 12 days per social worker – which is 60% more than the national average, according to a recent report in The Independent.

Combine that with rising levels of referrals – the dual effects of Baby P and the recession – and you have to marvel that more children’s services departments aren’t failing and there aren’t more Baby P’s.

It also serves to make Ofsted’s findings look all the more impressive, especially as chief inspector Christine Gilbert claims these inspections were tougher than those in previous years.

It just shows what a good job the majority of social workers do under increasingly difficult circumstances, and should be cause for celebration.

While there is still much work to do to improve services – and the lot of the social worker – it needs to be recognised that a good job is being done in the vast majority of cases.

Leave a comment

Filed under children's social work

Social workers leave due to ‘Baby P effect’

In possibly one of the least surprising social work stories of the year, statistics from the Local Government Association  have emerged that 6 in 10 councils are finding it difficult to recruit and retain children’s social workers.

This is an increase of 50% on the previous year, and the LGA blames the national media vilification of those involved directly in the Baby P case – and a more general damning of children’s social work as well – for scaring potential social workers away. The coverage also served to dampen morale in most social work departments.

While there have been moves to improve the image of children’s social work in the media – last week’s Panorama, for example – the vast majority of stories are still negative, which only serve to reinforce already well-entrenched anti-social work views.

Well, who would want to be a children’s social worker when you are viewed as either a child snatcher or so clueless that you can’t spot when a child is being severely abused? Not many of us.

The LGA’s figures, though unsurprising, are worrying. Many children’s services departments already complain of being overworked and understaffed, and it seems the problem is being exacerbated by the media vilification.

Of course, the more overstretched children’s departments become, the greater the chance of another Baby P happening, which would start up the media witch-hunt again and put even more off social work, and so on. 

This vicious circle needs to be stopped quickly, and it needs good communication from social work departments. For instance, while there are some local schemes that are successfully stemming the tide of departures, often neighbouring councils know nothing of it, because no-one tells them about it.

Councils need to shout about successful recruitment and retention projects from the rooftops, not just to other councils – although that is crucial – but the media too; newspapers won’t publish positive stories unless they know about them.

This way, things can change and the image of social work can – gradually – be restored.

Leave a comment

Filed under children's social work

Another Baby P waiting to happen?

Today’s news story comes from Greenwich where an – inevitably – unnamed social worker has broken ranks and said that another Baby P could happen because of a shortage of social workers and unmanageable workloads. http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/4712961.GREENWICH
__Social_worker_shortage_will_lead_to__more_Baby_P_cases_/

This scenario will be familiar to most children’s social workers. Vacancy rates nationally are said to be running at more than 10%, with the resultant knock-on effect in workload for current social workers.

It’s nothing new and one of the biggest problems the profession faces. The government can produce all the new initiatives and guidance it wants to try and improve practice and safeguarding but these mean little without the time – and personnel – to be able to carry these out effectively.

And this is where the problem lies. With local authority budgets set to be slashed in the next couple of years because of the recession, finding extra money for more social workers will be difficult at best for many councils.

Sadly, it seems this problem will remain and it is just a matter of time before another Baby P hits the headlines.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized