Sheffield hit the headlines in January this year for failing to
allocate social workers to children on its child protection
register last year. An SSI and Audit Commission joint review found
that 93 of the 535 children on the register in March 1997 did not
have an allocated social worker.
The department is now trying to tackle the problem, says Heather
Stephens, deputy director. 'We are not making any additional cuts
next year. We are looking to invest in children's services.'
That could mean additional staff or a review of the way the
register works. Some departments side-step the problem by
allocating a social worker just to oversee the child initially,
then allocating a permanent long-term social worker as they become
available. Sheffield prefers to have just one worker throughout,
although this can create problems finding appropriate staff.
So what went wrong in Sheffield? 'Resources are part of it,'
says Stephens. 'When an agency is going through many years of
reductions it tends to focus on managing the reductions rather than
how you can maximise the services you have got. It is more
difficult to be thinking strategically when there are recurrent
reductions in the service.'
Sheffield is unlikely to be the only department in this
situation, she believes: 'I'm sure that a number have had similar
problems. It is certainly not a new problem.'