Career clinic: council cuts and duty of care to children

Q:  I am a senior manager in a children’s services authority and I am faced with councillors seeking cuts which I am concerned risk myself and my staff breaching their duty of care to vulnerable children. What should I do?

A: Your councillors are legally bound to ensure staff can meet their statutory duties and their duty of care to service users. Moreover, directors must ensure that the lead member for children’s services is told if there are not “sufficient human and other resources available to discharge the authority’s statutory children’s services functions and maintain service standards in the future”, according to the government’s statutory guidance on the roles and responsibilities of children’s services directors in England.

In addition, Working Together to Safeguard Children lays down specific expectations on what must be done to ensure children are safeguarded and their welfare promoted through assessment, advice, support and intervention.

Your staff have a duty of care to all those you provide services to, or are required to provide services to. That means working safely, following such guidance, not delegating work except to those competent to undertake it, keeping accurate records and alerting managers if you cannot do this.

The General Social Care Council’s code of practice requires all social workers to “(bring) to the attention of your employer or the appropriate authority resource or operational difficulties that might get in the way of the delivery of safe care.”

Your first challenge is to ensure all staff understand their duty of care and feel able to raise concerns that they might be breaching it, preferably through a robust supervision system. If concerns are raised and verified, managers must either find more resources from elsewhere to ensure the duty of care is met, or explore whether some work can be done differently or safely delegated to other staff. If there are insufficient resources to do everything safely, some work must be stopped (and your own manager told why) so that what is done can be carried out safely.

Despite rising needs, social services budgets will not be ring-fenced, unlike health. Council resources are finite and councils are unfortunately not required to provide care for all who may need it. They must meet statutory duties and ensure staff can practise safely and councillors need to be reminded of these by your director.

Increasingly, managers are between a rock and a hard place. But, whatever the budgetary pressures, they must acknowledge, record, highlight and seek to address any risks to vulnerable children.

Roger Kline is the spokesperson for social care at the Association of Professionals in Education and Children’s Trusts

Next question

“I’m a children’s social worker and my local authority has been criticised for poor record-keeping in an inspection report. As a result we’re told to record all of our casework in greater detail, but I seem to spend all day filling in forms instead of visiting families. Our integrated children’s system is unwieldy – for example, having to enter information individually for each child in a sibling group, and being unable to change the care plan for children in follow-up reviews. It all seems a waste of time. Please advise.”

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