Councillor fired for raising concerns about social worker caseloads attacks ‘inaccurate’ report

Cllr Malcolm King was removed from his post but says he won’t stop until child protection is truly a priority

A Wrexham councillor sacked for blowing the whistle on high social work caseloads has attacked the “inaccurate” report that led to his firing.

The council  used a report into his claims, produced by independent investigating officer Helen Ryan, to remove King from his position as lead member for finance on the council’s executive board, saying he had made false allegations against the Children and Family Assessment Team (CAFAT).

In a letter obtained by Community Care, fired councillor Malcolm King outlined to the leader of the council his unhappiness with many aspects of Ryan’s report.

“Critically, the data and evidence referenced throughout her report actually clearly supports most of the concerns raised in my report.”

Cllr King submitted a list of 16 concerns to the former leader of the council, Cllr Neil Rogers, last autumn including high caseloads, high staff turnover and pressure being placed on social workers by managers to close cases early.

Ryan’s independent report, seen by Community Care, verifies that the average caseload of 40-50 is significantly above the national average of 21 in children’s services.

King had raised  concerns about the level of experience in the team, with nine out of 13 social workers having less than three years’ experience between them.

Ryan’s report said out of a list of 23 staff members including agency staff, 13 had no post qualifying experience.

“The remaining 10 workers on the list had 43 years’ experience between them,” the report said. This would mean an average of just over four years experience each for the most experienced members of the team.

However Ryan concluded Cllr King’s “allegation is not supported by the evidence and lacks credibility.”

King told Community Care the independent report had also implied the concerns he brought up were  his own, rather than concerns relayed to him by four separate social workers.

He said: “My purpose in writing the original report was to use my more protected position as councillor to raise the concerns of social workers who were afraid that their employment would be jeopardised if they raised their concerns directly.

“It is slightly ironic that I now appear to have been sacked for what I have done.”

Ryan said the fact that the four social workers would not reveal their identity cast doubt on the claims’ credibility.

“The ‘four social workers’ have not engaged in this investigation and Cllr King’s suggestion that to do so would put their future careers at risk is not convincing.

“The unwillingness of these workers to engage with the investigation calls into question their integrity and motivation,” Ryan said in her report.

Cllr King said in an interview with Ryan she informed him that in her experience no whistle blower had ever suffered as a result of their whistleblowing, a statement King described as “literally an incredible assertion”.

Cllr King said the council would be meeting  tomorrow to review their whistleblowing policy and remove the clause that would allow elected members to blow the whistle.

“Not all elected members were informed of this review and given the chance to object,” he said.

A council spokeswoman clarified that the whistleblowing policy was never intended to be used by elected members, who have recourse to their own confidential reporting procedure.

Cllr Mark Pritchard in an executive board meeting last month said to Cllr King: “Your persistence and seemingly relentless questioning of the team has a significant impact on staff morale.”

Responding to the allegations of inaccuracies in Ryan’s report, Cllr Pritchard said: “I am confident that we have an excellent group of social workers and managers.

“We must stop this relentless focus on historical information about safeguarding.”

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11 Responses to Councillor fired for raising concerns about social worker caseloads attacks ‘inaccurate’ report

  1. Jane Benanti December 3, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    My guess is that Counsellor King was too close to the truth and his findings mirror many other authorities in England & Wales. We MUST FOCUS on safeguarding and the morale and training and supervision of social workers. Where there is a regular turnover of staff, questions need to asked about the management and the way the council is run.

  2. Peter Palladas December 3, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    ‘Cllr King said in an interview with Ryan she informed him that in her experience no whistle blower had ever suffered as a result of their whistleblowing, a statement King described as “literally an incredible assertion”.’

    – Assuming that statement to be accurate, then, as someone who has conducted over thirty whistleblowing investigations in a variety of statutory and non-statutory agencies, I can assure Councillor King that his incredulity is well-founded.

  3. Jane Fraser December 3, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    It is a well-known fact that Social Workers have been over-stretched for years, have almost unmanageable caseloads and the turnover of staff is high…and no wonder why! Errors and mistakes can have catastrophic results, as witnessed in cases like Baby P and other poor souls. We simply cannot have Social Workers dashing from one case to another, not able to fulfill their duties because of lack of staff or experience and too much on their shoulders – it’s not fair on them, the families or society in general. For ANYBODY to be a whistle-blower where children’s rights and needs and safeguarding are involved, I don’t give a damn if they’re elected, non-elected, someone off the street or whoever…I applaud them! So, what HARM did Cllr King actually do to deserve this action?? And no, I’m not a Social Worker!!

    • Beth December 3, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

      Well said Jane & I am a social worker!

    • Mike Nash December 4, 2014 at 11:34 am #

      Hear hear Jane, you have coined it, I fully agree. Why play politics with peoples lives when the right and moral thing to do is protect our children and safeguard our elderly. I am in the social care business.

  4. Anne McArthur December 3, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    It is good to read an elected member has listened to social workers and had the courage to highlight their concerns: high case loads, insufficient time to undertake appropriate work with families and the lack of understanding and, as a consequence, no support from upper / semior management. The latter appear to hear only what they want to hear and then only pass on information ‘on the same basis’ to their line management and so on until at the interface between senior management and councillors there is a distorted picture.
    Ms Ryan’s comments regarding whistleblowers ‘not having suffered as a result of their whistleblowing’ – like Cllr King and Peter Palladas I find this is ‘a truly incredible assertion’.

  5. Graham Luetchford December 4, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    Wrexham seem to be following the old adage ‘if you dont like the message, shoot the messenger’ – then remove their right to whistlblow. Incredible! The very fact that social workers have dangerously high caseloads of 40 to 50 is enough to demonstrate the way this council, and many more, operate. I think social worker caseloads should be published in national league tables so we can see which local authorities are encouraging staff burnout and dangerous practice, and avoid them.

    • Jazz December 4, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

      Well done to Councillor King for speaking honestly and openly.

  6. Peter Palladas December 6, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

    – One example of what it takes to be a whistleblower: integrity and courage.

  7. Chris Sterry December 6, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

    Cllr King needs applauding for his duty on raising his concerns and I would question Helen Ryan’s judgment.

    I can understand the concerns of the 4 social workers re the security of their jobs and the sacking of Cllr King, is a prime example of their concern.

    Nothing should hinder the raising of any concerns, be it especially safeguarding or anything of any nature with regards to children.

    I also believe that Cllr Mark Pritchard needs investigating over his apparent lack of concern relating to the actions of the department, the condult of the management and resultingly the children.

  8. Geoff Lindsay December 8, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    So the “Independent” Investigator wrote that no whistleblower had ever suffered through doing so. That statement alone makes me believe the Councillor because I blew the whistle on the cover up of the true staffing leveles after the very low staffing levels had been found by an independent enquiry to have been the main cause in the death of a child in care. The mangers responsible for this , well it is betrayal, of that child, got away with it. I lost my career. Perhaps Ms Ryan, the Independent Investigator would like to widen her experience by believing that. The worst does happen to whistleblowers, don’t be so naive.