Birmingham may have opened itself up to legal challenges by failing to allocate cases involving looked-after children and children in need to qualified social workers.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said the council was in violation of the Children Act 1989. “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.”
Social care lawyer Ed Mitchell said it was not uncommon for negligence claims, brought by adults who were at risk as children, to be won on these grounds.
“It is a relatively common feature of successful failure-to-protect negligence claims against local authorities that an allocated social worker was not in place,” he said.
A quarter (852) of Birmingham’s children in need do not have an allocated qualified social worker, while 12% (232) of children in care do not have one either.
But the Association of Directors of Children’s Services has defended the council, blaming the rise in number of children being looked after as well as high social worker vacancy rates and staff turnover.
Colin Green, chair of the ADCS’s families, children and young people policy committee, said this mix resulted in local authorities using informed local management to find solutions.
“Children-in-need cases being allocated to family support workers and other staff in the children’s workforce is widespread and is a sensible approach to managing the workload. Given that children’s social care is a multi-disciplinary and multi-agency service, it is sensible for local authorities and partners to use a variety of staff to help meet children’s needs.”
He said allocating a child in care to an appropriately experienced worker, supported or supervised by a senior social worker, could be an effective way to meet the child’s needs “if not ideal”.
“Maintaining manageable caseloads is important in enabling staff to provide an at least satisfactory service to each child, young person and family,” Green said. “As resources get tighter, local authorities will be faced with making difficult decisions about how we meet the needs to the most vulnerable children, young people and families.”
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