The Local Government Association has warned that new evidence of the continuing staffing problems faced by council social work teams make reforms to the child protection system more urgent than ever to prevent vulnerable children slipping through the safety net.
The annual Local Government Workforce Survey, carried out by the LGA, shows 85% of councils with retention difficulties struggle to keep children's social workers. The figures also show that nearly eight out of ten councils with trouble recruiting staff find children's social workers the most difficult to employ.
Funding for children's services is among budgets being reduced by 28% overall. The LGA has warned that deep cuts to local government's finances combined with higher demand for child protection work since the baby Peter Connelly case will pose very difficult questions for councils over how they can keep children safe.
Baroness Shireen Ritchie, Chair of the Children and Young People Board at the LGA, says the Government needs to do more to reduce bureaucracy for social workers, freeing them up to focus on working directly with children.
"Social workers have their hands tied by red tape and bureaucracy which keeps them away from their most valuable work - dealing face-to-face with struggling families and children in need of help. Some paperwork is essential but a few simple steps to reduce form-filling and to ensure other bodies step up to the mark could make a massive difference. Work to address this is taking place, but not fast enough," Baroness Ritchie said.
"The cuts in funding to councils must impress on everyone the urgency of getting on with these reforms. Initiatives to increase the number of social workers are on track but were always going to take a while to make a difference. Action is needed now to make sure councils can keep the social workers they have, and that they can spend as much time as possible working with the children who need them"
She added: "Councils will always do the crucial work of protecting children to the best of their ability, but it is possible children would be safer if other parts of the public sector did more to help local government shoulder this precious burden."