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Surge in child protection referrals set to continue

Local authorities could see an increase of more than a third in the number of children going into the care system in 2011-2012 based on predictions from recent increases in child protection referrals, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

In the next two years, an estimated 61,000 children will come into the system in England – a rise of 35% from levels in 2007-2008 – placing child protection systems under further pressure, according to the National Foundation for the Educational Research analysis carried out for the LGA.

The numbers of children coming into the care system had been declining since 2005 but have increased sharply since November 2008 when three people were convicted for their involvement in the death of baby Peter Connelly in Haringey.

The latest Cafcass figures showed that March 2010 was a record month for care proceedings, with 832 care applications handled.

With rising numbers of children referred to children’s services, the impact of bureaucracy and paperwork on hard-pressed social workers becomes more significant. The LGA says the independent review into child protection to be carried out by Professor Eileen Munro must explore ways of reducing this burden.

Ministers have invited Professor Munro to conduct an independent review of children’s social work and frontline child protection practice. The review will look at how to remove the barriers and bureaucracy which prevent social workers spending valuable time with vulnerable children.

The review will look at how serious case reviews – which are now to be anonymised and published in full – can be strengthened, as well as looking at child protection systems in other countries to learn any lessons about good practice.

Councillor Shireen Ritchie, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“Social workers on the front line of child protection are already feeling the pressure of more and more cases coming through the door.

“Children who are at risk, and families that are struggling, will benefit more from additional time with experienced social workers than they will from an increase in the number of forms filled in about them,” she added. “Some paperwork is essential to doing the best possible job, but it is right to try to reduce bureaucracy where it can ease the pressure on social workers and increase the quality of care offered to children.”

The LGA has long argued that a reduction in bureaucracy is needed to allow social workers to spend more time with the children they are working to protect. On average, only 13% of the time taken to complete an initial assessment is spent with the child or family but 87% is spent on paperwork and process.