Nottingham Council’s director of children’s services has demanded that agencies, including schools and the NHS, refer cases to social workers only when they have serious welfare concerns.
Ian Curryer wrote to the agencies asking them to take more responsibility for dealing with “soft concerns”. Although he did not go into details, low-level warning signals that can trigger early intervention include poor family hygiene and children’s non-attendance at school.
“When times are tough, we have to shrink back to some of the more statutory basics,” Curryer told Community Care.
“Social services should take care of any child protection cases, but, when it comes to these softer concerns, I think other agencies should do their bit.”
In the case of nine-year-old Shannon Matthews of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, a long-term series of soft concerns had led to interest in the family long before she was abducted in a plot hatched by her mother, Karen, to claim a reward. Curryer said a measured approach was necessary for dealing with such fears.
“In terms of those cases, we need to work in an escalating way,” he said. “We would have to have clean paths through the system and a confident workforce that was clear about thresholds.
“But that’s not just up to social workers – there are many more eyes and ears than there are social workers. If you think we can work satisfactorily to meet all our needs with just the high end of child protection services, you’re mistaken.”
According to Curryer, Nottingham Council has been one of the first to clamp down on this issue because it has twice as many referrals as similar authorities. He said the quality of referrals was “very low” and the department had to act before social workers were overwhelmed.
Curryer said this approach did not imply that his department was pulling back on preventive services. Instead, it was looking at what resources and agencies were available to children’s services and how to use them most effectively.
“It’s all about partnership,” he said. “If that’s not working, we need to make sure we do something about it because safeguarding is everybody’s business.”