Portsmouth social workers face surge in child cases

Portsmouth’s child protection service is struggling to deal with a rise in referrals in the wake of the Baby P case.

The city council says it receives up to 1,700 reports from people concerned about children every month.

And the number of calls that result in full referrals to social workers has shot up to around 150 a month – 67 per cent more than last year.

It means social workers are missing government deadlines to assess new cases within seven days.

Margo McIntosh, interim head of children’s social care, said: ‘There has been a lot of work in Portsmouth to raise people’s awareness, which has meant we are getting more initial calls that lead to referrals.

‘Also there is the Baby P effect, which has had an impact on every social work department in the country. Baby P made lots of people in the community more aware of child protection issues.’

Portsmouth City Council has set aside £150,000 in next year’s budget for five social workers in a bid to reduce workloads.

But children’s social work chiefs say nationally it is tough to recruit new staff. Ms McIntosh said a government campaign was needed to attract more people to the profession.

‘The Baby P case, where social workers were demonised, was exceedingly demoralising to staff working in the most difficult jobs,’ she said.

‘The problem we have is that child protection is a really big issue, and the complexity and severity means the people that work in it on a day-to-day basis do not stay forever.

‘That is the area where there is the most problem with recruitment and retention. People don’t want to be in a position where they are working with such risks.’

There are 60 social workers in Portsmouth City Council’s child social care department.

Between them they are responsible for looking after around 1,200 children at any time.

Margaret Geary, strategic director responsible for social care, added: ‘All of our performance indicators are good aside from the seven-day assessments. With that no child is put at risk.

‘It’s more important to do the right assessment than it is to do it in the right time, and that is what we do.’

Today it was revealed that four in 10 people have lowered their opinions of child social workers since the Baby P case.

Of the 1,000 people surveyed in a poll for the Local Government Association by ComRes, 42 per cent said their view had worsened.

The LGA, which holds a conference on child protection today, says 10 per cent of child social worker jobs remain vacant.


Hampshire County Council currently has 10 social worker vacancies.

The council is also recruiting additional social care staff to support social workers.

In the children’s and families department there are 302 qualified social workers and senior practitioners.

In the past 12 months the council has had an average of 4,830 calls a month, of which 460 progress to an initial assessment.

This is 430 more contacts than last year and 810 more than the year before.

At the moment the council has a caseload of 5,390 children.