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Children face greater risk if social work services are cut

Social workers are almost unanimous in the view that any cuts to social work services would leave already massively understaffed child protection teams less able to keep vulnerable young people safe from harm.

Ninety-seven per cent of social workers who responded to a BASW poll over the bank holiday weekend said that any public spending cuts could lead to a significant increase in the risk of child protection tragedies because local authorities are already too stretched.

The online survey found that only 5% of child protection teams are fully staffed and 52% are struggling with social worker shortages of 30% or more – 13% say they have a shortage of more than 50% of permanent social work staff.

Last week two former Haringey Council social workers in the Baby P case were suspended from practice for their failings in the case, although a conduct hearing elected not to permanently remove either from practice after hearing evidence of staff shortages and excessive caseloads in the department at the time.

The BASW survey reveals an enormous reliance on agency or temporary social work staff, with 31% of child protection social workers saying that their team is only fully staffed as a result of using such workers – often employed on a short-term basis and inevitably offering vulnerable children less continuity than permanent long-term employees. Nearly two thirds of local authorities (63.4%) are under-staffed even with the use of temporary workers.

Commenting on the survey of 151 social workers who work in child protection, BASW’s chief executive Hilton Dawson, said: “This survey offers a stark illustration of the very real concerns social workers have that vulnerable children in their care will be placed at far greater risk if social work services are cut in any form.”

The survey also revealed that 73% of respondents have never worked in a fully staffed child protection team, with just 27% having spent any time employed in a department full of permanent employees.

The revelation prompted BASW’s Dawson to comment: “Social work has been left in a terrible state by the previous government, and those before that too, leaving us with ridiculously high vacancy rates and caseloads which are contributing to child deaths. Even when there has been a massive increase in public spending, there has been an appalling failure to support social workers properly. We must not allow social work resources to be further cut – whether frontline services or those back office workers who make the lives of social workers that little bit more manageable.

Research findings:

• Just 5% of child protection social workers say their team is fully staffed with permanent social workers

• 63% of respondents say their department is under-staffed, even including agency staff

• 13.1% of social workers say their child protection team is under-staffed by 50% or more

• 52.3% say their department is understaffed by 30% or more

• 96.6% of child protection social workers say they are concerned that cuts to social work services could significantly increase the risk to the users of social work services

• 151 child protection social workers responded to the online poll between Thursday 27th May and Wednesday 2nd June