Nottinghamshire Council has spent £1.5m on agency social work teams because it does not have enough permanent staff to handle a 43% jump in child protection referrals since Baby P.
Two teams will be in place for a year while the council works on recruiting permanent staff. They will concentrate on clearing unallocated work before taking on full child protection caseloads.
Nottinghamshire spent £1m on commissioning the first team, comprising a manager and 10 social workers, in April. Some other agency staff had previously been dispersed across child protection teams to cover vacancies, sickness and other forms of absence.
However, a damning Ofsted inspection into the council’s child protection services in May found an ongoing shortage of frontline staff meant children were still not being effectively safeguarded.
Now the council has allocated a further £500,000 to commissioning a second team formed of a manager and seven social workers.
However, it has denied local reports that it is spending almost £90,000 on each agency social worker. A spokesperson said the maximum a social worker can earn at the council is £32,800.
Steve Edwards, service director for strategic services at the council, said the cost of the teams was in line with the average for agency staff.
He said: “The council has experienced a 43% increase in referrals since the Baby Peter case; that is unprecedented.
“We need to respond to these pressures on the service to ensure we can operate effectively to protect vulnerable children.”
A report by the Local Government Association in June showed frontline child protection was under strain due to a rapidly increasing number of referrals following the death of 17-month-old Peter Connelly, or Baby P, in 2007.
In Nottinghamshire, the number of children who are the subject of a child protection plan has increased from 430 to approximately 600 over the last year, according to Ofsted.
Martin Sleath, Unison’s social care convener at the council, said: “We’re not opposed to agency workers as such, but they’re not a long-term solution.
“The council needs to increase the number of full-time permanent staff because the level of referrals is showing no signs of abating.”
A peripatetic or “floating” team of social workers was established in Nottinghamshire in 1996, but it was scrapped in 2005 because it was no longer seen to be necessary.