No Easy Answer To Child-Protection Failing In West Sussex

No quick fix exists for a shortage of social workers in West Sussex – said to be the main reason why the county’s child-protection services were labelled ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted inspectors.

This was stated at a meeting of the children and young people’s services select committee, which was told a national shortage was exacerbated in the southeast.

No significant improvement was likely in West Sussex until three-year degree courses for social workers ended in the summer.

Until then, managers would continue to prioritise and reprioritise work with the most vulnerable, to minimise risks wherever possible, said a report presented at the meeting.

John Dixon, executive director for adults and children, said there was a disregard for social work as a profession and as a skill, which made him very angry.

“This disregard is very destructive indeed,” he declared.

Until Baby P, the child- protection unit in Ofsted was the ‘graveyard’ to work in. It was not any more.

Mr Dixon said the message they were trying to get out was West Sussex was aiming for excellence, and that social workers could have a professional career in the county which was really meaningful.

Stuart Gallimore, director of operations for children and young people, said the current vacancy rate for social workers was 20 per cent.

He was, however, encouraged and satisfied by the fact that within the current resource available, the service was as safe as it could be.

“We continue to operate within significant areas of risk, but managers are juggling with work very effectively,” he added.

“There is a huge debt of gratitude to front-line staff, who do a job in very trying circumstances.”

He anticipated that with the programme under way, West Sussex would be in a significantly stronger position by the autumn of 2010.

“This is about turning around our recruitment and retention,” said Mr Gallimore.

One of the key factors was the extra £500,000 allocated by the county council to strengthen the retention and recruitment strategy.

“Our next big hit on the staffing side is when people complete degree courses in the summer,” he said.

“Clearly, for the foreseeable future we will continue to have a relatively young and inexperienced workforce, so we need to ensure they get the proper support they need.”

Twenty-five new social workers had been recruited since September – 15 of them in children’s services.

Mr Gallimore said he had considerable grounds for optimism. “I have been terribly impressed with the staff we have got,” he told councillors.