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Kara Swift
Kara Swift
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Survey shows child protection is "ticking time bomb"

Date:27 JAN 2009

Findings released by UNISON yesterday, show that social workers are struggling to cope due to vacant posts, increased caseloads and inexperienced staff thrown in at the deep end.

The UK's largest public sector union, which represents 300,000 social care workers including 40,000 social workers published its findings in a report, Still Slipping through the net? - Front-line staff assess children's safeguarding process.

Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said: "Our survey shows that the Child Protection Services are a ticking time bomb that could explode at any minute. There are not enough staff, caseloads are too big and social workers are spending 80% of their time on paperwork. That is a lethal combination that will leave children exposed.

"Six years after the Laming Inquiry into the tragic death of Victoria Climbié, child protection workers are still struggling to cope with heavy caseloads. Social workers are not being given the time, training or resources to do their jobs effectively."

The report found that six out of ten respondents work in teams where over 20% of posts are vacant. More than a fifth have a vacancy rate of over 30%.

The researchers found that half of all respondents believe that social work services are now worse resourced than in 2003, with only nine per cent believing it is better. The researchers also found that three quarters of all respondents reported that average caseloads for social workers have increased since 2003.

Issues reported by the respondents included remote leadership and inexperienced management, lack of focus on the rights of the child, problems with agencies passing the buck on assessments and a need for more accountability from outside agencies.

In response to the findings, UNISON has put together a ten-point plan to reform the child protection system. They propose:

  • that child protection investigation visits should be done by two practitioners;
  • an urgent action plan to fill vacancies and to review staffing levels across all social work teams;
  • the introduction of national caseload management standards to be enforced through inspection;
  • a planned programme of investment in children and families' social work;
  • a cull of bureaucracy using similar measures to those used to cut red tape in schools;
  • re-establish homecare services for children and families;
  • a complete overhaul of the Integrated Children's System;
  • a review of the decision on court fee levels and of Cafcass's funding and capacity to ensure that resource constraints are not influencing legal proceedings and outcomes;
  • better support and more reflective practice that ensures social workers have at least two years post-qualifying experience before being allocated child protection cases, and;
  • measures to rebuild morale.

A separate survey which looked at violence against social workers in general found that 65% had encountered verbal abuse, 26% physical threat, 9% violence and 31% bullying in the last two years.

To read the report in full, click here.