Bid to ease the pressure on Sheffield children’s care services

MORE frontline staff are to be recruited to care for children in Sheffield after an internal review found child social workers have too many cases to handle and many are inexperienced.

The council is also promising to ensure that all newly qualified staff work closely with experienced staff and to improve training.

The Sheffield review was ordered in the wake of the death of Baby Peter in Haringey, north London. It also follows criticism of social services in the case of a 56-year-old man from Sheffield who raped his two daughters over 25 years, fathering nine children by them.

As part of the review, every case on the council’s books was examined – 272 in all – with only two found to be needing further action, even though no child was in danger.

But according to the BBC, the resulting report highlighted a situation in which “inexperienced and newly-qualified social workers make up two-thirds of the social work establishment in the fieldwork service”.

It also said “caseload allocation to some of Sheffield’s social workers is high and the ongoing monitoring and auditing capacity of front-line managers needs increasing”.

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

She added: “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.”

Mrs Knights said the caseload allocated to Sheffield’s social workers was too high and a high staff turnover meant it was hard to maintain continuity, meaning social workers could have difficulties in forming long-term relationships with families.

The report is said to call for an extra £1.6m to be spent on children’s services in Sheffield but Mrs Knights said it was doubtful the improvements could be achieved as quickly as the council wanted.

As well as recruiting more frontline staff and improving training, the council says it is working with its partners, including the police and health services, “to make sure it has the clearest ways possible of working together”.

Coun Andrew Sangar, cabinet member for children’s services and lifelong learning, said: “There is obviously no room for complacency when it comes to keeping our children safe. That’s why the council took it upon itself to undertake an internal review in light of the Baby Peter case.

“The review found that whilst there is a lot of good work being done by our social services staff, more needs to be done. But we are determined to deliver the improvements that are needed as a matter of urgency.

As far as I’m concerned Sheffield must set the highest possible standards.”

Jayne Ludlam, council director of children and young people’s specialist 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 set a very high standard here in Sheffield and the actions from this review will reflect this and improve the service further.

“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.

“This review in no way seeks to undermine this relationship. Our aim is to make sure we can improve the service further to achieve positive outcomes for the children and families in Sheffield.”

The council said the report will be made public early next month, before it is debated by councillors.