More than 1,000 unallocated children-in-need cases in Essex

Essex Council has established an emergency team of 21 social workers to help clear a backlog of more than 1,000 unallocated cases of children in need.

A spokesperson for the authority, under special measures imposed by the government, said it had agreed on a timetable to clear the backlog – from a total of more than 8,000 cases of children in need and looked-after children in the county – by the end of May 2010.

The council was originally ordered to improve its children’s social care services by the end of March 2010 or face some of its functions being outsourced.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families issued an improvement notice in March last year after an annual performance assessment by Ofsted rated its safeguarding services “inadequate”.

News that the council has failed to tackle the problem of unallocated cases follows an announcement in December by children’s minister Dawn Primarolo, who strengthened intervention after an unannounced Ofsted inspection in November found progress at the authority had been limited.

Primarolo ordered the establishment of an improvement board to oversee progress, while two consultants from the DCSF are working with the council to draft a final improvement plan. She welcomed the appointment last summer of Malcolm Newsam, previously interim director at Thurrock Council, as director of children’s services.

Although the number of unallocated cases has fallen by more than 800 in the past two months, Peter Martin, deputy leader of Essex Council, admitted that it is still not at an “acceptable level”.

Martin said he was committed to ensuring that all children received support from an allocated social worker.

He added that none of the remaining unallocated cases involved children on the at-risk register.

The council refuted suggestions that the levels of unallocated are due to staff shortages. A spokesperson said there were currently six social worker vacancies.

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