TUES 02/03/2010 - Reforms intended to improve the protection of children instead risk trebling the workload for social workers, according to new analysis from the Local Government Association (LGA).
The LGA commissioned the research from Loughborough University to examine the implications for local government of enacting all of the recommendations made by Lord Laming in his report on the protection of children in England published in the the wake of the baby Peter Connelly case.
One of the recommendations drawn up says that any referral from another professional, such as a police officer or health worker, should result in social services carrying out an initial assessment. Initial findings from the research has found that, in a worst case scenario, this requirement could lead to a 300% increase in the number of such assessments some social work teams have to do.
The steep rise could mean an estimated 6,300 extra social workers were needed if it was replicated across the country, at a cost of nearly £250 million annually, according to the local government leaders.
Children's social workers are the staff councils find it hardest to recruit and retain, and the LGA is warning a large number of new recruits cannot be easily rushed into the system because they need to be properly prepared for the demands of the job.
Councillor Shireen Ritchie, chair of the LGA's children and young people board, said: "Money cannot and should not be a factor in deciding how this country can best help children grow up safe from cruelty and neglect. Every right-minded person wants to know everything possible is being done to keep children safe from harm, but it would be irresponsible to pretend that there are no financial implications for proposed changes to how we protect children.
"There is no magic wand which can quickly produce thousands more qualified, expert social workers. There is a huge number of dedicated staff at work on the front line making a positive difference to children's lives every day, but new social workers must be given the time to develop their skills so they can also become top-quality professionals.
"The danger in the meantime is that increasing workloads drive more hard-working social workers to the limit of their endurance. No-one wants efforts to improve child protection to overburden social work teams and lead to more staff leaving," Councillor Ritchie added.