The Baby P case has been responsible for a “significant and marked decline in morale” among social workers, according to a report by the Local Government Association (LGA).
The first official research focusing on the specific impact of the Baby P case on children’s services also found that although there was a clear link to morale and to the awareness of child protection concerns by other agencies and the public, the case could not be solely held responsible for the increased number of care applications.
Other factors such as the Public Law Outline and better identification of serious child neglect cases had also played a role here, the research from the National Foundation for Educational Research found.
The findings, commissioned by the Local Government Association, came from an online survey of directors of children’s services and in-depth case study work with six councils.
The research did not draw any concrete conclusions around the case’s potential impact on social worker practice, but did say there were suggestions of “subtle changes” in approach.
The report said: “Several references were made to the emergence of ‘defensive practice’, although this was always in ‘other’ teams, local authorities or agencies.”
This cautious approach was also reflected in agencies such as the police and education. A tendency to “pass on” responsibility for safeguarding activity which had led to increased tensions among agencies was noted.
Despite added pressure and drops in morale, practitioners told the LGA they were “broadly optimistic” about the future of child protection. There was, however, widespread agreement that significant investment and additional resources would be needed in order for improvements to be made.
LGA senior policy officer Ian Keating, who was involved in the research, said they wanted to use it as evidence when talking to the government about sector concerns.
“The report confirms everything we’ve been hearing and we will use it to continue our discussions with government on reducing bureaucracy and the pressures on social work teams,” he said.
“If nothing else, this report shows that these concerns are not likely to go away and that a plateau has been reached. So that will support our calls for change.”
Keating said the report would also be helpful in arguing for more support because it showed increased pressure across the entire sector, not just frontline child protection. Strain on the court system and Cafcass, for instance, is also included in the research, he added.