An acute shortage of social workers, poor team structures and a hike in referrals were to blame for a “crisis” in children’s social care at Doncaster Council, the interim director of children’s services said this week.
But Dr Paul Gray (pictured) said the authority was turning performance around as two independent inquiries were announced this week into its children’s services, which Ofsted rated as “inadequate” in 2008.
Gray, who took up his post last April, said staff were overwhelmed by workloads in 2007-8 when there were up to 700 referrals each month and social worker vacancy rates hit 40% in some teams.
This resulted in delayed assessments and unallocated cases, as identified in the 2008 annual performance assessment. The Ofsted report also highlighted managerial failings in staff training and the recording of information that were a cause for “serious concern”. The number of children on the child protection register rose sharply from being in line with the national average in 2005 to double that in 2008.
Unison: Still too few social workers
Robin Symons, regional officer for Yorkshire and Humber Unison, agreed with local councillors that there were still not enough social workers.
However, Gray told Community Care that the council now had “virtually a full complement”.
This was one outcome of an ongoing improvement programme, he said, backed by an additional £4m, which includes a reorganisation of the directorate.
An independent three-week inquiry into safeguarding arrangements in Doncaster Council, commissioned by elected mayor, Martin Winter, will begin this week. It will be conducted by social care consultant Andrew Williamson, who has recently carried out reviews into child protection in Jersey and the use of restraint in the secure estate in England.
Meanwhile, a “diagnostic review” of Doncaster children’s services will be carried out by the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
Overhaul threatened by Hughes
Children’s minister Beverley Hughes (right) said this would attempt to establish the “root causes of underperformance” highlighted by Ofsted and said this could lead to an overhaul of children’s services in the borough.
However, Gray welcomed the government intervention.
“We want them to look at the things we’ve put in place to reassure everybody that we’re on the right track,” he said.
Doncaster Council is holding an emergency meeting today after opposition councillors raised concerns about safeguarding in the borough.
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