Backlog of 400 child protection cases triggered fresh wave of dismissals and suspensions at London borough
Social workers not linked to the baby Peter case have been suspended or dismissed from Haringey children’s services due to poor practice and capability concerns, inspectors revealed last week.
Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and the police inspectorate’s review of progress in Haringey since last November’s damning joint area review found improvements had been “limited” due to “insufficient numbers of competent staff and managers”.
The report revealed particular concerns about staffing levels and competence in the social care referral and assessment service.
It said management of the service had been “very unstable” this year, which was linked to staff sickness and the suspension of practitioners involved in Peter’s case. These include his social worker, Maria Ward, and her manager, Gillie Christou, who were later dismissed.
The report said the disruption was compounded by “additional suspensions and dismissals” which took place as senior managers “began to tackle poor practice and capability concerns about individual managers and social workers”.
Backlog of cases
This followed the discovery of a backlog of 400 child protection cases, which the council referred to an external taskforce to clear because it had no capacity to deal with them internally.
The taskforce, which cleared the backlog in March and April 2009, identified “serious concerns” including the absence of a coherent management structure in referral and assessment teams, high caseloads and a lack of confidence and competence in decision-making.
Haringey Unison confirmed that the other suspensions and dismissals cited by inspectors were not directly related to the baby Peter case.
The General Social Care Council has suspended Ward and Christou from practice but said it was unable to confirm whether any further cases had been referred for investigation from Haringey.
When asked if staff felt scapegoated for failings, Unison branch secretary Sean Fox said: “Staff certainly feel as if they are being very heavily examined on every case they deal with and the tiniest issues [are being] picked up.”
There continued to be significant staff turnover, as workload pressures and stress remained a “major issue.” Fox added: “There is certainly evidence that people are seeking to leave Haringey as they do not always feel the situation is safe”.
Last week’s report found one-third of children’s social care posts were filled by interim and agency staff, and said shortages meant the impact of improvements in support for frontline staff was “limited”.
Caseloads remained “too high” in children’s services, leading to delays in completing initial and core assessments, in addition to the backlog identified.
Eight of 57 safeguarding cases studied by inspectors raised “serious safeguarding concerns” despite being judged as low priority by the council. The authority and partners have since agreed urgent action to secure the safety of the children concerned, the report said.
The local safeguarding children board and children’s trust had also failed to ensure that all frontline staff and managers were made aware of the key findings and recommendations of the second baby Peter serious case review, published in May.
Haringey Council leader Claire Kober (pictured) said the authority was “working very hard” to address the issues raised but she accepted that “much more needs to be done and more time is needed”.
She said the authority was “prioritising improvements to frontline practice and supervision” and had a “major staff recruitment drive underway”.
The council confirmed it had recruited 10 social workers since the inspection, while a further 15 had accepted job offers and would be joining “as soon as possible”. Experienced social workers had been moved into the referral and assessment team to deal with caseloads, while a new role of assistant director of safeguarding had been appointed to focus on this area.