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Severe staff shortages in social services putting children at risk

Vulnerable children are at risk of falling through the child
protection net because of severe staff shortages, social services
directors warned this week.

At a
media briefing two days before the opening of the Laming inquiry
into the death of Victoria Climbie, the Associ-ation of Directors
of Social Services revealed that there are over 2,000 front-line
child protection worker vacancies in England.

Figures
from July show a vacancy rate of 14.7 per cent, while just under 9
per cent of manager posts are also vacant.

ADSS
president Moira Gibb warned that the safety net for children “was
being stretched too tightly”. There was insufficient money for
children’s services to meet the rise in demand and not enough staff
to “do what is a very difficult and demanding job”.

Directors surveyed said they had to fill vacant posts with newly
qualified staff and unqualified social workers. Even agency staff
were proving difficult to find and were themselves newly qualified
social workers or from abroad.

ADSS
senior vice-president Mike Leadbetter said that staff would ideally
have two years’ experience before tackling some of the more complex
child protection cases.

Gibb
added that staff needed support and supervision but first line
managers were very difficult to recruit. “In some departments we
have agency managers supervising agency staff,” she said.

Asked
whether staff shortages explained the Climbie tragedy, Gibb said:
“We are not saying that this is a failed system and that
organisations have not made mistakes but are asking you to consider
the wider pressures on the system. We are saying that individual
workers are more likely to make mistakes because of the pressure
they are under.”

Gibb
also raised concerns that cases involving families in need were
being closed prematurely. And she argued that social services had
not received the same increase in resources as health and
education.

On the
forthcoming Department of Health social care recruitment campaign,
Gibb said that she wanted it to be “as sophisticated and
well-resourced as that for nurses and teachers”.

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