Under-fire children’s services department criticised in new report

A YORKSHIRE council’s children’s services department that was criticised in the wake of what was referred to as the British Josef Fritzl case has come under fire in a new report.

Two out of three front-line social workers in Sheffield are inexperienced, they cannot keep track of all nought to three-year-olds and communications with other agencies such as the police are poor, according to the leaked internal review.

The city’s children’s services came under the spotlight last November when a 56-year-old man was jailed for life for raping his two daughters over a 25-year period and fathering nine grandchildren by them.

Despite contact with the Sheffield children’s services department, social workers failed to intervene.

Claude Knights, director of the children’s charity Kidscape, who has seen the new report, said: “Some of the findings are alarming.”

The review highlights “inconsistent” social work practice in the field with a large number of staff in Sheffield having less than a year’s experience.

Mrs Knights said: “There are a large number of very, very young social workers in terms of their experience going into some of the most horrendous situations.

“You need more hardened workers to look under that blanket and look behind the chocolate coating on the mouth.

“This only comes with age and experience and is very concerning.”

She said it was the youngest children who were most at risk of abuse, the caseload allocated to Sheffield’s social workers was too high and the high turnover in staff meant it was hard to get continuity.

The leaked report is an internal review of Sheffield’s children’s services which was carried out following the Baby Peter scandal in Haringey.

The review started 18 months ago and examined 272 cases where children were subject to a protection plan. It discovered only two cases where there was a need for further action, although it says these children were not unsafe.

The council claims a “very high” number of job vacancies have been reduced and new recruits are “highly qualified talented staff who work extraordinarily hard.”

It is now recruiting more frontline staff, reviewing all its cases, making sure newly qualified staff work closely with experienced staff and improving working relationships with partner agencies.

Jayne Ludlam, director of children’s services said:”Not only do we need to address the weaknesses that have been identified by our own internal review but we also need to build on the strengths we already have.

“There have been significant improvements in our safeguarding procedures and we have already taken a proactive look at all our cases.

“We know that we have a committed, hard working, skilled staff group that are working in a difficult role. Our social workers work extremely hard in what is often a quite thankless task and we appreciate every effort they give us.”

The review will be made public before it goes to a Sheffield City Council scrutiny panel meeting next month.