Emergency duty teams cast doubts on shift to unqualified support staff

The increased use of non-social work qualified support staff to
field out-of-hours inquiries in social services departments is
causing concern among emergency duty teams.

In a study of 28 teams by the Thomas Coram Institute, the quality
and supply of support staff was raised as a problem in eight local
authorities using different types of duty system. Others said the
lack of status given to emergency duty teams had resulted in a fall
in the number of experienced social care staff attracted to the

This caused some managers to speculate whether all child protection
referrals to the teams were being dealt with most appropriately.

“When taking referrals from professionals in other agencies,
assistants were or could be influenced by the opinion of the
professionals rather than being able to make their own assessment,”
the study says.

One manager said the teams were “the dying ground for burned-out
social workers”, resulting in the move to use unqualified workers
for front-desk duties.

Support staff should be trained to distinguish between the types of
referrals and take the appropriate action, according to the
respondents. Call-takers needed to have better awareness of the
variety of people who make referrals, and how to cope with people
in distress.

Managers in three areas where out-of-hours calls were fielded by
call centres were worried these could cover too broad a range of
services to attend to the specific needs of those contacting social

Last month, Liverpool social services announced plans for
out-of-hours to be fielded by call centre staff who were not social
workers, sparking a debate about the future of emergency duty teams
(news, page 8, 5 August). Respondents to the study felt the role of
the teams needed clarifying.

In addition, too few councils publicised their duty system for
children well, with websites being underused. “Information on child
abuse and neglect and who to contact could be difficult to find,
especially given the many different names for departments with
social services responsibility,” the report says.

– Report from www.dfes.gov.uk

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