Edinburgh restructures children’s social work to tackle failings

Edinburgh Council has announced a reorganisation of children’s social work services after an internal review found it was failing to meet the needs of some vulnerable children.

Under the plan, implemented next month, 12 management jobs will be shed, social workers will be freed up to focus on statutory responsibilities and a team of family support workers will be set up to deal with more preventive work.

Marilyne MacLaren, convener of the education, children and families committee, which is responsible for children’s services, admitted the council had failed to keep up with a “dramatic” rise in referrals and complexity of cases in the last five years.

Child protection referrals in Edinburgh increased by 40%, to 1,510, from 2005-6 to 2007-8, while the number of looked-after children rose by 11% to 1,327 over the same period. However, the number of social workers rose by only 9% from 2005-6 to 2007-8, from 157 to 171.

Not meeting statutory responsibilities

The review found the council was not fully meeting some statutory responsibilities, such as holding child protection case conferences within 28 days, conducting reviews of looked-after children within set timescales, and allocating a social worker to every child who needs one.

Practitioners reported increasing work pressures, making it difficult to respond effectively to need, while there was insufficient family support for children at risk of being looked-after or being excluded from school, it found.

The review followed an inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education in September last year, which identified weaknesses in child protection arrangements. Inspectors found poor operational planning and inconsistent approaches to assessment were leaving some children “at serious risk”.

Redirecting resources

MacLaren said the reorganisation was designed to address these problems, and redirect resources “where they are needed most”.

From next month, the departmental structure will change from 11 practice team managers leading social work teams, and reporting to five community managers. Instead, smaller teams of no more than eight members of staff will be led by senior social workers, who will report to six team managers covering separate communities.

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