Record child referrals push social workers to breaking point

Social workers are struggling to deal with record numbers of children entering care and some have become so stressed they are leaving the profession, it has been claimed. (Pic model released: Voisin/Phanie/Rex Features)

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Social workers are struggling to deal with record numbers of children entering care and some have become so stressed they are leaving the profession, it has been claimed.

Sue Kent, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers, said frontline social workers are crumbling under the pressure of trying to provide a good service to children as referrals soar and local authorities cut back on provision.

“Our members report that they are working far more than their contracted hours and dealing with a rising number of cases. They are also experiencing such levels of stress and ‘burnout’, that they are leaving the profession altogether,” she said.

She warned the government to stop cutting resources and allocate more money to preventive services so that social workers can intervene at an earlier stage, rather than having to “pick up the pieces when things go wrong”.

The warning follows news that care applications have reached an all-time high after rising steadily for three years – a spike some attribute to increased risk awareness in the wake of the Baby P case.

Family courts body Cafcass received 903 referrals in January 2012 – an increase of 100 from December 2011 and the first time the figure has ever topped 900 for a single month.

Kent said the announcement of increased referrals would come as no surprise to social workers. “Members have been reporting their concern over recent months about their ability to cope with such a high and increasing demand,” she said.

Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass said a number of factors could have affected the record numbers of referrals. “Agencies are working more quickly to ensure that children are removed from deeply damaging households and are showing a lower tolerance for poor parenting. What we are seeing is an elimination of drift in neglect cases and a greater recognition of the appalling impact that neglect can have on children,” he said.

Matt Dunkley, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, told the BBC that a better understanding of child development and the effects of neglect had led to the rise.

“One [reason] is the effect of domestic violence on children in the home and the emotional abuse that that represents, but also it is about understanding the effects of neglectful parenting due to drug and alcohol problems and the physical damage to development and brain development that it can do in very young children,” he said.

Douglas said all agencies need to factor the higher numbers into their planning systems, resource allocations, workforce development strategies and service contracts, “so that the most vulnerable children in the country continue to receive strong public services”.

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