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Social workers fear for vulnerable children as cuts push system to breaking point

Read BASW’s latest Huffington Post blog Our social workers are cleaning toilets instead of protecting children

Social workers have issued a stark warning about the “dire” state of the profession nearly five years after the death of Baby Peter Connelly, as service cuts increase caseloads and prevent social workers spending vital time with vulnerable children and adults.

Despite political pledges to protect frontline services, government cuts have left social workers drowning in paperwork, acting as receptionists and even cleaning toilets, instead of working to prevent further tragedies.

Of 1,100 social workers surveyed by The British Association of Social Workers:

• 88% said vulnerable lives could be put at risk by cuts to services
• 85% have seen notable cuts to services in the last 12 months
• 77% are concerned about unmanageable caseloads
• 46% are afraid to speak out about for fear of repercussions
• 65% concerned about use of unqualified staff

The frontline social workers who responded to the survey repeatedly expressed their fears about the potential consequences of a system at breaking point.

One social worker reported: “The team I work in currently is working at dangerous caseload levels in terms of child protection work.”

Another described the situation in their social work team as “another serious case review waiting to happen”.

Social workers spoke of how cuts to back office staff meant they now spend even more time on administration than before, despite widespread acceptance that they needed more, not less, help in the wake of the Baby P tragedy.

They report having to clean toilets, buy their own stamps and even hoover their own offices instead of spending the time they need with children and adults at serious risk of harm.

BASW has written to the Secretary of State Michael Gove to emphasise its deep concerns about the state of social work, and is also urging the All Party Parliamentary Committee on Social Work to hold an urgent inquiry into the risks to vulnerable children and adults of an overstretched social work service.

BASW has also issued an immediate call for action, calling on government and local authorities to take three steps:

• Immediate measures to reallocate local authority administrative staff from less critical roles

• Place a moratorium on any further cuts to social work allowances or the introduction of any new charges, which are savagely undermining morale

• Ensure that Ofsted and CQC prioritise in all inspections the risks of high caseloads and take steps to uncover bullying.

Hilton Dawson, chief executive British Association of Social Workers, said:
“The survey statistics are damning, and the hundreds of comments we have had from social workers are deeply alarming.

“The government pledged in 2010 to protect frontline social workers, yet by axing support staff they have turned social workers into glorified typists.

“We cannot afford to wait any longer for urgent action from government. Lives that could be helped will be neglected, and lives that could quite literally be saved, will be lost, unless the response is swift and total.

“Social workers are facing an administrative overload and as a result, are spending less and less time with vulnerable children and adults; caseloads are quite simply unmanageable, posing imminent and serious risks to the people who need services; and the stresses on service providers, from the very top to the bottom, are creating an endemic culture of bullying, driving morale levels through the floor.

“Social work services were never beneficiaries of investment in the way other areas of public service were during the so called ‘boom years’, yet now they find themselves facing cuts every bit as deep as those in other sectors. We didn’t have the good times, and now we’re facing even worse times. We simply cannot go on like this.”

Read BASW’s State of Social Work survey report

View a comprehensive document containing the comments social workers made in responding to the story