Employers are blaming the trend of allocating increasingly complex cases to unqualified staff on the national shortage of social workers.
Debbie Jones, vice president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said councils were struggling to balance their responsibilities to service users and staff because of a lack of resources.
But she also argued that some cases did not warrant the use of qualified staff.
She said: “When allocating cases, the level of risk and any child protection concerns are clearly a key consideration, but so too are the management of caseloads of individual staff, making the best use of the time of qualified social workers and staff development.
“In recent years local authorities have developed substantial workforce development strategies in order to cope with the shortage of qualified social workers, and such strategies include the importance of allocating cases to staff with appropriate skills for the task required.
“This does not always require a qualified social worker.”
Jones was responding to interim findings from a Unison survey, which found social work assistants were increasingly being asked to take on complex tasks, sometimes without supervision.
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social work, said this was “an accident waiting to happen”.
“With the biggest cuts in living memory hitting councils, the worry is that we will see more and more reliance on ‘para-professionals’ as a cheaper alternative,” she added.
Jones said the quality of children’s social care should be judged by outcomes rather than processes. But she added that it was important for unqualified staff to have access to good supervision and oversight by a senior social worker or manager.
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