Cornwall’s social workers need to be heard, says boss
SOCIAL workers must be heard if problems in children’s services in Cornwall are to be solved. That was the message from the chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, Hilton Dawson, following a report to Cornwall Council’s cabinet on how it intends to improve services to vulnerable children and young people.
Councillors were due to discuss the report by the interim director for children, schools and families Richard Hubbard yesterday, as The West Briton went to press.
In it, he admits to a raft of problems within the service, but says no more social workers will be brought in.
Their meeting followed the intervention into Cornwall’s children’s services crisis by government minister Dawn Primarolo, who has ordered an improvement board to be set up following damning Ofsted reports. A two-week inspection in September concluded that services for the county’s vulnerable young people and children in care were “inadequate”.
In a second report in October Ofsted said 15 areas needed immediate attention, including issues regarding social workers’ caseloads and monitoring individual children.
In his report to cabinet Mr Hubbard admitted the task was “to overcome the embedded nature of under-performance and develop sustained improvement as part of a new performance culture”. He added that there were “generic weaknesses” in Cornwall’s children’s services, including lack of clarity about who does what and lines of accountability, poor communication, and failure to comply with statutory responsibilities.
He said the department also lacked a head of social care to provide leadership and monitor performance.
He has identified five areas for improvement, including staffing issues such as capability, capacity, and training and development, as well as the need for more efficient systems and effective quality assurance.
But social workers will be disappointed that there was as yet no plan to increase social worker numbers.
Mr Dawson said capacity – not enough staff to cover numbers of cases – was a national problem for social workers.
He said: “There are capacity issues in children’s services right across the country, not just in Cornwall, though there may be additional issues locally.
“We need to recruit and retain more social workers.
“The problem is that there is no proper career structure that keeps experienced social workers near the frontline so they can pass on their knowledge.”
Mr Dawson has asked that social workers are included in the group which will oversee Cornwall’s children’s services improvement plan.
He said: “It’s important that front line social workers are involved in the improvement board and I have asked the minister of state to make sure they are.
“If these issues are to be resolved, social workers have got to be heard.
“I have also written to the council’s chief executive Kevin Lavery with the same request and had a positive response.
“I believe there is a real will in Cornwall to address and move forward what have been longstanding problems in children’s services.”