Demand for child protection social work continues to rise

Local authorities are having variable amounts of success in using early help services to reduce demand on child protection social workers, according to the latest research.

Most local authorities have seen child protection referrals increase over the past year, although a few have seen decreases of 30% or more, according to research from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS).

The number of children on a child protection plan increased by 51% between 2007-8 and 2011-12, the study showed. But this overall increase masked significant variation at a local level, with some authorities seeing rises of up to 100% in some types of activity, while others reporting decreases of 30% or more.

Directors who had seen an increase in referrals expected pressures to continue to rise in future years.

Those who had seen a decrease in child protection referrals attributed it to improved early help services, better multi-agency working and speeding up the process of finding permanent placements for children.

However, ADCS president Debbie Jones warned against seeing early help services as “quick fix or magic bullet”, adding that they require “sustained and sustainable funding over a number of years to have the effect that we are all seeking”.

The study showed more child protection plans are being categorised as “multiple”, involving more than one form of abuse, which correlates with evidence that social workers are faced with increasingly complex caseloads.

While neglect was the most commonly-cited reason for children to be referred, qualitative research found a deepening concern about rising domestic violence issues.

The research also showed that 40% of looked after children had not been in a stable placement for the last three years. However, 40 local authorities reported changing the placement of a looked after child because of a risk of sexual exploitation during the same period.

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