Work pressures affect Social Workers’ ability to protect Children

Posted on October 15th, 2010

A survey by the British Association of Social Workers last week revealed that a staggering amount of Front Line Social Workers feel that they have been unable to protect children in their care due to the pressure of work.

1390 Social Workers were interviewed for the survey, and the results show that the constraints of Front Line Social Work have put a significant amount of pressure on staff.  Of those surveyed 70% believed that they had been unable to protect a child due to the constraints of their job.  95% of respondents were of the opinion that children’s health and safety had been put at risk due to them being forced to make key decisions based on insufficient information.

Janet Foulds, a Front Line Social Worker for 36 years said; “I have felt overloaded and overburdened with concerns about the decisions I have to make in such an increasingly stressful, pressured environment…  I try to cope with the workload by working late at night and over weekends but have felt at times that I have not been able to do the best job I can do.”

85% of Social Workers said that public criticism of their job had reduced the number of potential new recruits to the Social Work profession, and that this had lead to an increase in workload.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services welcomed the report.  A spokesperson said, “Child protection services risk being overwhelmed.  Ministers must ring fence funding for early intervention projects.”

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Is the government to blame for Child Protection Chief Executive’s resignation?

Posted on October 6th, 2010

Jim Gamble resigned as Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) on Monday, leading to widespread criticism of the government’s actions involving the agency.

The government has recently been looking to merge CEOP with other agencies to create a National Crime Agency.  The agency would comprise CEOP, the UK Border Agency and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Gamble had warned Theresa May that the proposed agency would undermine the work done by CEOP and their attempts to keep children safe from abusers and paedophiles whilst on the internet.  CEOP claims to have disrupted or dismantled 262 sex offender networks and instigated over 1000 arrests since 2006.

The concerns are that CEOP’s work would be diluted by dissolving it into the National Crime Agency, and that child protection work would suffer as a result.  “Jim Gamble is an outstanding child protector” said Shy Keenan, from the Phoenix Chief Advocates, who asserts, “May doesn’t like him.  It’s a clash of personalities, and as far as we’re concerned, because she has decided she doesn’t like his particular personality, every child in the country has to suffer’”

CEOP released a statement backing Gamble, and said that the move to assimilate it into the National Crime Agency was not in the best interests of children and young people.

In a statement, May said “As chief executive, Jim Gamble has done a great job at CEOP and made a huge contribution to protecting children.  I wish him all the best for the future and arrangements for his successor will be outlined in due course.”

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Looked after children statistics released by the Department for Education

Posted on October 6th, 2010

30th September saw a Statistical First Release (SFR) of information regarding the numbers of looked after children in the UK.  It also looked into the reason a child is looked after, their legal status and the type of placement they are currently in.  The information also takes into account the numbers of children no longer looked after, and the number who started to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2010.

The figures are based on data from the SSDA 903 return collected from all local authorities.

The key points from the report are as follows:

  • The number of looked after children as at March 2010 was 64,400.
  • 27,800 children started to be looked after during the year ending March 2010.  Of these children 9,500 are classed as being taken into care.
  • 25,100 ceased to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2010.
  • 52 percent of the children who started to be looked after during the period were due to abuse or neglect.
  • 73 percent of children who were looked after at March 2010 were in a foster placement.
  • 3400 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) were looked after at March 2010
  • 350 mothers aged 12 and over were looked after at March 2010.

For more information, the entire report can be found on the Department for Education Website

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BBC appeal lifts restriction on naming Local Authority

Posted on October 6th, 2010

A court appeal by the BBC has lifted restrictions on naming a local authority after a recent court case.

The case followed a previously unnamed local authority initiating child care proceedings regarding a family with 3 children.  Coventry City Council applied for care orders for the 3 children, who are now aged 12, 9 and 8 following allegations that the children had been subjected to unnecessary hospital admissions, tests and medical examinations by their parents.  The parents had allegedly lied and exaggerated the children’s symptoms to enable the tests to take place.

Coventry City Council dropped proceedings after re-evaluating its evidence and concluding that there was ‘no, or very little’ material that would satisfy the threshold criteria for the orders to be made.  During the case, the defence had run up legal aid bills of £400,000.  The council was ordered to pay £100,000 towards the costs after the judge described the case as one where, ‘something had gone badly wrong’.

After the judge’s decision had been published, an informal application was made by The Press Association to enquire as to the name of the local authority concerned.  The request was denied by the judge, who explained that a formal application would need to be made.

The Press Association decided against this due to the costs involved, so the application was taken up by the BBC.  The QC for the local authority argued that naming the council would lead to identification of the children involved – which was disregarded by the judge as a low risk.

The judge summarised that he was, ‘…not persuaded that this is a point of real substance.  In the event that the local authority agreed to participate in any broadcast of the court’s criticisms it would be unnecessary, in my judgement, for the local authority to descend to that level of detail in order to address the points.’

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57 weeks for a Family Court decision

Posted on August 13th, 2010

It seems ironic that the recent comments about Independent Social Workers by Ms Marion Davis are followed by research highlighting the length of time it takes for Family Court proceedings.  The research by Barnardos shows that an average of 57 weeks pass before a decision is made.

It is over 20 years since the Children Act 1989 set out a system to try to enforce a child focused approach to care proceedings, in which it proposed an optimum case length of 12 weeks.  Whilst a lot has changed in Social Work over the last 20 years, the notion that prolonged court proceedings have a negative effect on the child is perhaps even more relevant today than it ever was.

Some courts are taking an average of 14 months to resolve proceedings, and there does also appear to be a postcode lottery as to how quickly a child’s future can be decided.  Three out of 18 regions completed proceedings in less than 12 months and Family Court Proceedings in London took on average 65 weeks.

A family justice review is being carried out by the Ministry of Justice and a spokesman said: “The government is committed to reducing unnecessary delay in care proceedings.  A family justice review is currently underway gathering evidence on problems in the current system and proposals for change.  The panel leading the review shares Barnardos’ concerns and has met their representatives to discuss suggestions for reform.”

The removal of Independent Social Workers and thereby reducing the amount of support to front line Social Workers would only increase the length of time taken to reach decisions in court.

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Are Independent Social Workers just an ‘expensive part of the landscape’?

Posted on August 13th, 2010

It is a little over a month since Ms Marion Davis, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services released a statement regarding the use of Independent Social Workers during court proceedings.

Ms Davis was quoted in an article for Community Care as saying, “Independent Social Workers are just some of the enormous number of people checking on what Social Workers do”. Ms Davis was asked if the absence of Independent Social Workers in court proceedings would have an impact on court proceedings, to which she replied, “I can’t think of one”.

It seems a rather short-sighted statement for Ms Marion Davis to make that Independent Social Workers should cease to play a role in the court process and extremely unfair to suggest that they are just another group of people ‘checking on’ and having a ‘detrimental effect’ on Social Work practice.  Independent Social Workers are colleagues and partners of Local Authority front line Social Workers; working in collaboration in a society that currently vilifies the Social Work profession as a whole.

In other words a Social Worker is a Social Worker and the fact that a growing number of Social Workers wish to practice independently and not remain within the constraints of Local Authority bureaucratic managerialism is possibly a symptom of a profession that has lost faith in a government that really does not understand what it is all about.  The majority of Independent Social Workers have been Local Authority Social Workers themselves and are therefore well aware of the overwhelming and unmanageable case loads faced by many Social Workers, who consequently find themselves unable to meet deadlines and timescales.  Avocet understands only too well that it is more often than not the system that hinders Social Workers from carrying out their role to the best of their ability so you certainly would not find an Avocet Independent Social Worker setting out to ‘undermine Social Workers’ professional judgement’.

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15% of Social Work degree students drop out in 2009

Posted on July 26th, 2010

Nearly one in seven Social Work degree students failed to complete their course in 2008-9,
claims a recent General Social Care Council (GSCC) report. The GSCC asked universities
and colleges for the number of students enrolled on to Social Work degree courses. They
also asked for the numbers that did not pass or progress at the end of the academic year.

Community Care analysed the reports, and found that of the 14,550 students enrolled,
2,170 failed to progress on finishing the 2008-9 academic year. It has been suggested that
this figure was not entirely due to academic reasons, with a proportion of the blame being
passed onto other factors such as delayed placements.

Kingston University had the highest non-completion rate of all institutions offering degrees in
Social Work. Edge Hill University was the only institution to report a 100% completion rate,
which may be due to the small size of the course with only 25 students in 2008-9.

Other suggested factors are illness and maternity leave. Professor of Social Work Jill
Manthorpe, who is also the director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s
College said “Our work has shown that the non-completion rate is a complex interaction
between institutional and student factors.”


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Place more children in care, says Barnardo’s Chief Executive

Posted on June 28th, 2010

Martin Narey, Chief Executive of the children’s charity Barnardo’s has entered the debate over Children’s Services by stating that 1 in 3 children who should be taken into care are being left with inadequate parents.

Narey, whose previous position was Director General of the Prison Service said the conventional wisdom of ‘social services’ was, “…outdated and placed too much premium on keeping the birth family together”.

Narey has called for greater early intervention, saying that leaving the child with the parents, only to intervene later costs Children’s Services up to an extra £33,000 per child per year.

Narey also called for more looked after children to be placed in residential care as opposed to fostering.  Almost 75% of all looked after children are in foster care, with only 13% in residential settings.

Think-tank Demos published a report commissioned by Barnardos this week which corroborated many of Narey’s statements. The report called for earlier intervention, fewer family placements and upping the age of leaving care from 16 to 18 years.

The report also warns of the dangers associated with the budget cuts faced by care services.  According to Demos,   “The temptation to intervene later and cut frontline spending for vulnerable children would be a counter-productive cost cutting exercise”.

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Chair of Education and Children’s Social Services Inspectorate resigns

Posted on June 28th, 2010

Zenna Atkins resigned as chair of Ofsted last week, amid speculation over the future of the inspectorate.

Zenna Atkins had been the chair of Ofsted since September 2006, and was the organisation’s first ‘chairperson’.  Atkins said in a statement that she had left the organisation to head a ‘global education provider’. She also said that, “Ofsted has achieved much of what I hoped it would achieve.”

Her departure comes in the same week that ministers hinted at their intention to replace Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert. Gilbert has stated that she intends to stay until the end of her contract, which runs until October 2011.

Atkins chaired Ofsted through many changes, including the merger of the Schools Inspectorate with the Commission for Social Care Inspection in 2007. She was renowned for being outspoken, and often criticised the Civil Service culture.

Non Executive Board Member John Roberts said “Zenna has helped transform Ofsted in her role as its first Chairman. Working closely with HMCI, she has overseen the development of world-class inspection systems, including doubling the classroom observation time in school inspections and the introduction of unannounced inspections of front-line Children’s Services contact, referral and assessment arrangements, helping to ensure the most vulnerable are better protected.”

Ofsted has been criticised heavily in the last 18 months, most notably over the handling of children’s social care inspections during recrimination over the Baby P case.

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Front Line Social Workers Left Feeling Powerless in Child Neglect Cases

Posted on June 1st, 2010

Action for Children, formerly known as NCH, released figures this week showing that front line Social Workers and Police officers often feel powerless to intervene in cases of child neglect.  The children’s charity surveyed 490 Social Workers and Police officers from across the UK.

The survey revealed that 16% of Social Workers reported a rise in the number of cases of suspected child neglect over the last year.  This is supported by a report by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, which stated that the number of cases where members of the public and other professionals had brought children to the attention of Social Workers had risen by 25% since the death of ‘Baby P’ 2 years ago.

The research also reported that 37% of the professionals surveyed felt that they had been unable to tackle suspected child neglect early enough to protect the children involved.  50% said early intervention was vital to adequately protect vulnerable children.  Nearly 60% of those surveyed also said that the amount of paperwork, coupled with staff shortages was preventing them from spending enough time with families.

Hugh Thornberry, Director of Children’s Services at Action for Children said, “The threshold for intervention is not a clearly defined line because the symptoms of neglect are chronic rather than acute; professionals on the ground are telling us that they report cases to local child service departments, then have to stand back and watch as nothing happens…  In acute cases of abuse, where there is an unexplained injury, help will be given very quickly, but children suffering ongoing, chronic cases of neglect slip under the radar”.

Colin Green, head of policy for the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ safeguarding and child protection team said “The problem is that workload is up in all categories of child protection.  The debate we need to have is about capacity in a very stressed system where tough decisions have to be made based on priorities.”

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