Baby P brings ‘more young people into social work’

The Baby Peter tragedy has made a positive impact on the number of young people entering the child welfare profession, says Kent County Hall’s social work chief.

Despite struggling to fill about 100 vacancies on her team, Rosalind Turner – the council’s managing director of children, families and education – says it is proving more difficult to attract experienced staff than trainees.

This week a host of celebrities lent their backing to a television campaign aimed at bringing former social workers back into the profession, and Ms Turner told Kent on Sunday it was one she fully supports.

She said: “Although the case of Baby P and what went on in Haringey is very concerning, in a way it has given a focus to what social workers do for us all on a national basis.

“At the moment we have about 100 vacancies here in Kent, although that is partly down to us having an extra £1.2 million for new posts this year.

“We have 62 newly-qualified social workers who have just joined us, as well as 20 third-year university students who we are sponsoring and will join us as soon as they’ve finished their studies.

“What we do have a shortage of though is experienced workers. A large part of the job is about judgement, and that’s something you build up over time.

“We’re really pleased with the quality of our new social workers, but we do need that combination.”

Actresses Samantha Morton and Sadie Frost and musician Goldie are among those who appear in the new ad campaign, entitled Help Give Them A Voice.

It was launched amid fears that people had been put off the profession following the aftermath of the Baby P tragedy, during which several social workers were fired by Haringey council.

However, Ms Turner said she thought there may be other reasons why experienced members of staff were leaving the industry.

She said: “It’s a hard job. It’s a little bit like teaching in that you have lots of newly-qualified workers but sometimes the more experienced ones decide to leave when they don’t want to take on extra responsibilities.

“The vilification of social workers is always a concern. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

“But generally people who enter the profession are not too concerned about things like that and are completely driven for what’s best for our children.”

Earlier this year following a review of children’s services in the UK, Lord Laming made 58 recommendations as to how councils could help prevent a repeat of the Baby Peter scandal.

KCC chief executive Peter Gilroy told KoS at the time that while he welcomed the suggestions, he was concerned they would add to the bureaucracy already experienced by Kent’s social workers.

However, Ms Turner was pleased to report her staff had managed to cut back on red tape while also continuing to implement all of Lord Laming’s recommendations.

She said: “What did lead to lots of problems was the Integrated Children’s System (ICS) computer programme, which all social workers were asked to record their casework on. It was a very cumbersome system and took up far too much of their time.

“We’ve had to do a lot of remedial IT work to make sure our staff are not spending 80 per cent of their time cutting through red tape and 20 per cent of their time visiting children and their families.

“Things are much better now though, and it’s a real credit to our social workers and our backroom admin staff.”

When asked about the likelihood of a Baby Peter-type tragedy occurring in Kent, Ms Turner said: “You can never say never but we do have robust systems in place to minimise the chance.

“I would hope from the work we are doing that if we knew of a child at risk that we would do absolutely everything to keep that child safe.

“Of course you can’t have a social worker sitting with a family 24 hours a day, and by and large children are better off with their families, but it’s all about monitoring that risk and making the best possible judgements we can.”