More social work needed, says Ofsted

A council boss has denied children are at risk because social workers are struggling to keep up with demand. Matt Dunkley spoke out after Ofsted inspectors urged for more social workers to be employed by East Sussex County Council to tackle the huge rise in child protection referrals following the tragic case of Baby P.

Toddler Peter Connelly’s death in Haringey, north London, in 2007 sparked a nationwide surge in referrals.

As head of children’s services for the county council, Mr Dunkley had first-hand experience of the soaring demand, up to 40% in some parts of the county.

The council’s child protection team was one of several subjected to unannounced inspections by Ofsted in July.

The inspectors’ report on the East Sussex service was published last month.

They noted the shortage of qualified social workers meant that “in a few cases” child protection investigations were not completed and appropriately recorded quickly.

The inspectors found caseloads were “generally high and in come instances excessive” and urged the council to take on extra staff.

Mr Dunkley said 12 social workers had been taken on recently and there were still vacancies being advertised.

He said the inspectors made clear they had found no examples of children being left at risk.

Mr Dunkley said this year, the council would have 12,000 referrals, all of which would need – and get – careful attention.

He said: “In very difficult circumstances our staff are doing a great job.

“We agree that the caseloads are very high and that we need to do something about that.

“That is why we have recruited 12 more social workers to help us with this massive increase in workload.

“Our social workers are working their socks off and are under huge pressure.”

Mr Dunkley said all the new social workers would be in post within two months.

He said it would be easier if the authority could recruit more staff but the system was “fundamentally safe.”