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BASW-backed MP inquiry lifts lid on serious pressures facing social workers

The ability of social workers to keep children safe from harm has diminished, not improved, in the five years since the convictions in the case of Baby Peter Connelly in Haringey, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Work says today.

The Inquiry into the State of Social Work report based on expert testimony from frontline social workers, heard evidence of unmanageable caseloads, rising numbers of children entering care and IT systems that are preventing social work professionals from spending time with at risk young people.

Social workers told MPs about their concern that caseloads in excess of 60 children could mean they fail to detect indications of abuse in a household. Referring to a particular case he was working on at the time, one practitioner told MPs: “I have niggling concerns about the mum and her two children but I don’t have the time to go back frequently to tease out the situation”.

MPs raised concern that the reform agenda which emerged from the Baby P tragedy is not having sufficient impact on frontline social workers. MPs are also worried that a 70% rise in care applications since 2007, combined with challenging local authority budgets, have left social workers less able to protect vulnerable children than five years ago – the opposite outcome the public would have hoped for when those responsible for Baby Peter’s death were convicted in November 2008.

Ann Clywd, Chair of the APPG on Social Work, said: “Children living in chaotic households or where concerns have been expressed about their welfare need to know that there are professionals out there with the time and support to be able to come and make a difference to their lives, and above all to keep them safe from harm.

“What MPs heard during this inquiry is that all too often social workers do not have the capacity they need to be able to concentrate on that vital duty of ensuring the safety of as many young people as possible.”

The APPG report contains a series of recommendations to help address the obstacles to good practice, including proposals to get social workers out from behind their desks and located in the heart of communities, as well as the introduction of paid overtime to reflect the amount of evening and weekend hours practitioners currently spend trying to keep up with huge caseloads. 

The inquiry followed a survey into the State of Social Work carried out by the British Association of Social Workers in May 2012, in which 1,100 social work professionals revealed unmanageable caseloads and fears that service cuts would lead to avoidable deaths.

Commenting on the inquiry report, BASW’s Chief Executive Bridget Robb said: “Social workers will welcome this recognition by MPs of the fact that five years on from the Baby Peter tragedy hitting the headlines, the situation simply has not improved. Worse still, it appears for some social work professionals, to have deteriorated, making it even harder to safeguard young people than it was before.

“The profession, and in turn those who rely on social work services, is struggling with vast caseloads that are continuing to grow as care applications continue to soar – a direct result of councils becoming more risk averse since Peter Connelly’s death – yet they are doing so at a time when downward pressure on local authority budgets has never been more severe.”

See full Inquiry into the State of Social Work report