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Date: MON 26 JANUARY 2009

Shocking Social Work Survey Shows Child Protection is 'Ticking Time Bomb"

Findings released by UNISON today (26 January), show that without decisive action, it is only a matter of time before there is another Baby P tragedy.

The UK’s largest public service union, which represents 300,000 social care workers including 40,000 social workers, has released a damning report (Still Slipping through the net? - Front-line staff assess children’s safeguarding process) showing that social workers are struggling to cope due to vacant posts, increased caseloads and inexperienced staff thrown in at the deep end.

Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said: “Our survey shows that Child Protection Services are a ticking time bomb that could explode at any minute. There are not enough staff, caseloads are too big and social workers are spending 80% of their time on paperwork. That is a lethal combination that will leave children exposed.

“Six years after the Laming enquiry into the tragic death of Victoria Climbie, child protection workers are still struggling to cope with heavy caseloads. Social workers are not being given the time, training or resources to do their jobs effectively.

“Thanks to social workers many thousands of children have been saved from abuse and neglect, but it is a daily battle. They come under constant fire during high profile child abuse cases and many have seen an increase in threats of violence against them since the baby P case. There are already problems recruiting and retaining social workers, we cannot afford to lose any more.

“Without decisive action it is only a matter of time before there is another tragedy. We owe it to baby P and all those other children at risk to re-think the way that child protection is organised. That is why UNISON is calling for our eight-point plan to be put into place in Scotland immediately.”

Report findings include:

- Six out of ten respondents work in teams where over 20% of posts are vacant. More than a fifth have a vacancy rate of over 30%.

- Three quarters report that average caseloads for social workers have increased since 2003.

- Nearly 60% say that staff who do not have a social work qualification, or are newly qualified, are more likely to be doing child protection work for which they are insufficiently trained or experienced than in 2003.

- Twenty eight% believe that there is less access to adequate supervision; with 52 per cent saying it has simply remained the same.

- Half of all respondents believe that social work services are now worse resourced than in 2003, with only nine per cent believing it is better.

- A third believe that the system has not improved over nearly six years.

Issues include remote leadership and inexperienced management, lack of focus on the rights of the child, problems with agencies passing the buck on assessments and a need for more accountability from outside agencies.

A separate survey which looked at violence against social workers in general found that 65% had encountered verbal abuse, 26% physical threat, 9% violence and 31% bullying in the last two years.

A social worker from the North, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I have worked for six years in two local authorities in child protection/court and children in care.

“I get threatened with violence over the phone by parents and young people at least once a fortnight.

“I have also had threats made about myself and towards my family and children, had my car vandalised on several occasions and have even been locked in a house and threatened with needles.”

She added: “More recently, following the Baby P and all the negative publicity surrounding social workers in the media, parents refer to the case when they are unhappy with social work involvement.”

Another worker from Scotland said: “I have been threatened by a client over the phone who left several messages stating that I should die a horrible death and that they are going to kill me.

“Our professionalism is constantly attacked.”

UNISON’s eight-point plan (this is reflects the different position in Scotland)

Co-working on all child protection investigation visits: child protection investigation visits to be done by two practitioners.

More social workers and support staff: an urgent action plan to fill vacancies and to review staffing levels across all social work teams.

National caseload management standards: enforced through the inspection process and regularly audited by the council leadership, with sanctions against employers who breach the Scottish Social Services Council’s Code of Practice for Social Care Employers.

More resources: a planned programme of investment in children and families’ social work.

Cull of bureaucracy: a root and branch zero-based review of all bureaucracy.

To increase the responsiveness of and resources to the widely respected Children’s Panel system: creating a system which ensures that social workers can service it properly and that the resources are in place to allow its decisions to be implemented.

Better support and more reflective practice: Social workers should have at least two years post-qualifying experience before being allocated child protection cases. There should be consistent, high quality supervision that is both supportive and challenging.

Measures to rebuild morale, confidence and status of social workers: redress the devastating impact on morale through re-instigating the campaign run by the previous Scottish Executive to promote positive public awareness about what social work achieves.


For Further Information Please Contact: Mandy McDowall (Regional Officer) 07903 846 427(m) Chris Bartter (Communications Officer) 0771 558 3729(m) For information on the report and position across the UK contact: Mary Maguire – Head of Press and Broadcasting -07771 548 957 Anne Mitchell – Press Officer – 07887 945 307