The full extent of the crisis facing child protection teams has been revealed by an Association of Directors of Children’s Services survey published this week.
The survey, which covers the period from the end of 2007 to the end of 2009, shows that while councils have seen an average 21% rise in most safeguarding social work activities, there has only been a 10% increase in staff working in this area.
Despite this rise, half of the councils surveyed had at least one managerial or social worker vacancy in teams responsible for initial child protection contacts and assessments. Just one in three had vacancies of social worker assistants or administrators.
Marion Davis (pictured), incoming president of the ADCS, said: “It is clear from the 10% increase in staffing that councils are aware of increasing pressures and are taking steps to increase the number of staff dealing with child protection concerns, but councils have not been able to keep pace with the dramatic rise in demand.
“The rises are in every part of the system, from the front door to the family courts and we believe this shows that this is not a knee-jerk reaction to high profile cases, but rather that agencies are getting better at identifying those children who require extra support.”
The research, based on data from 105 local authorities, reveals that social work tasks relating to identifying and investigating possible harm to children have risen by over 20%.
Section 47 enquiries – investigations into the possible harm of children – have increased by just over 20%, while there was a 33% rise in children subject to a child protection plan.
Some 17% more children started to be looked after during this period.
The only activity to fall in the period was the issuing of full care orders, which dropped by 8%.
Davis said this drop could be due to the fact that the full care order process can take over a year from the investigation of concerns to the completion of care proceedings. The time lag may explain why full care orders have not yet risen in line with other activity.
The ADCS plans to do further analysis of the reasons for referrals and the ages of the children and young people affected in order to estimate cost implications for local authorities.