A quarter of Birmingham’s children in need, a total of 852, do not have an allocated qualified social worker, while 12% of children in care do not have one either, Community Care has learned.
As of 19 August 2010, Birmingham had 2,787 children in need cases allocated to a social worker, but 852 were unallocated. Out of a total of 1,999 looked-after children in the council, 232 cases remained unallocated to a social worker.
“It’s absolutely criminal. You just can’t have cases unallocated like that,” said Philip Measures, a retired frontline children’s social worker and manager who uncovered the information. “The local authority is supposed to be the corporate parent and yet no one is accepting responsibility. Birmingham has had a succession of high-profile child abuse inquiries – Khyra Ishaq being one of the latest – and still there is no national initiative to put right the severe ills.”
In addition, one-third of cases coming out of social work duty and assessment teams are being given to staff not qualified as social workers, such as family support workers or senior social worker assistants, according to Chris Cooper, children’s services representative for Birmingham Unison.
“It’s a very scary idea, but it’s better than having nobody working the case at all,” Cooper said. “It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s inevitable until the vacancy levels come down.”
A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: “When a case is not allocated to a qualified social worker, that does not mean that child is unsupported. A significant number will be allocated to a named social worker assistant and they will be reporting to and supervised by a qualified social worker.”
According to the Department for Education, however, such practice is illegal.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Local authorities have a legal duty to allocate a social worker to every looked after child and they should be providing all vulnerable children with support to address their needs. The statistics relating to Birmingham’s provision for children in care are worrying.”
The spokesman said ministers have met the council to discuss the actions they need to take to improve the provision of children’s social care and will be writing to the council shortly to set out the improvements they expect to see. If ministers consider that the council is not in a position to bring about the necessary improvement by itself, the spokesman said, they will consider what further action is needed to secure a high quality service for Birmingham’s children and young people.
Many in the social care sector find the situation unacceptable, whatever the strain on the council.
“A child in care who does not have an allocated social worker is being badly let down,” said Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of The Who Cares? Trust. “The chances of them drifting in care without sufficiently high priority being given to the support they need to fulfil their potential are increased.”
Finlayson said any local authority that found itself with more than 10% of its children in care not having an allocated social worker needed to take emergency action to prioritise recruitment and retention of social workers. She added the department should explain, as a matter of policy, to children who do not have an allocated social worker why this is the case.
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