Council plans to lift child protection referral burden

Child protection workers in Hammersmith and Fulham will no longer assess referrals but instead focus on complex cases in a proposed reorganisation of the council’s children’s services. However, chiefs have denied the move is about increasing child protection thresholds.

Under proposals discussed by the council’s cabinet on 10 January, children’s services could be divided between four teams – three multi-agency agency teams, including social workers, to handle lower-risk cases and one specialist child protection team made up of social workers and health visitors.

According to Andrew Christie, director of children’s services, the multi-agency teams would provide a screening process for child protection workers, as well as support families in less severe cases.

“This change would mean social workers on the child protection team will hopefully spend less time sifting through the many thousands of referrals that we get and spend more time with the families that need their support most.

“The change would also allow us to address need at an earlier stage, decreasing the likelihood that children will need the support of child protection services.”

Christie said neither thresholds nor the council’s definition of child protection would change.

The cabinet document on the proposal said direct savings from the restructure would be around £3.2m, with indirect benefits accruing through expected reductions in the number of looked after children.

The council said costs for the programme would be around £66k to April 2011 and then £766k in year one, mainly from an expected 50 redundancies. However, a spokesman for the council said none of these posts would include social workers.

The council has also proposed to stop running its Sure Start children’s centres, although it will continue to fund all of them. It also wants them to become more targeted, providing support directly to individual families and cut back on walk-in programmes.

Christie disputed reports the council was planning to only fund six out of 16 centres directly but he pointed out that some services within the current number of centres would be paid for by outside organisations “which is already the case in some of our centres operated within schools”.

The new set-up will cut children’s centre costs for the council, and free up money from the Early Intervention grant the government announced in the comprehensive spending review.

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