Social workers overworked says Torbay child services report

STAFF shortages, high workload and poor morale over pay cuts were some of the key factors leading to a damning report of child care intake services at Torbay Council, authority watchdogs heard.

The council’s overview and scrutiny board were considering a report by children’s chief officer Dr Carol Tozer into an unannounced inspection by Ofsted into the contact, referral and assessment systems in child social care.

The inspection report found there were three priority areas for action: management, supervision and quality of frontline practice.

It also concluded it could mean there could be an overall downgrading of the child care service to ‘poor’, but that the council was also aware of the problems and taking action to deal with them.

In a report to the board, Dr Tozer wrote: “In conclusion, the findings from the unannounced inspection of contact referral and assessment systems are wholly unacceptable. Children are being let down.

“Previous actions taken over the last year to improve the standard of professional practice and management are the correct ones, but the urgency and pace with which they have been applied at all levels must now be redoubled at all levels.”

The report found social workers were overloaded with work, which the scrutiny board heard was due to an enormous increase in referrals due to the controversy surrounding the death of Baby P in London.

The appropriate workload was 20 to 25 cases for each worker but in Torbay the figure was around 35.

Sue Allen, interim executive head of children’s social care, said there were staff shortages due to problems with recruitment, and the council’s job evaluation process cutting the pay of social workers.

She said: “Some people who have had salaries slide feel extremely angry about that.”

The department has lost a third of its social workers, with four vacancies in the team, which should be 12 strong.

She said there is a backlog of cases but that had been halved, and the council is in the process of interviewing potential new recruits.

“I don’t think you will see a quick resolution to this. We have the right process but I don’t think you will see a change until we have the new social workers in place.”

Mrs Allen said the vacancies had not arisen for a single reason and added: “It isn’t just the inspection, it is also workload and job evaluation.”

She said morale within the section was not high.

Cllr Mike Morey, a ‘children’s champion for enjoying and achieving’, said he was concerned at the loss of experienced social workers.

“My concerns are that we are losing these social workers due to job evaluation who can get more money elsewhere.

“What restrictions are in place to ensure were are replacing like with like?”

Cllr Ruth Pentney, who is the lead councillor on the issue, said it was a sad situation when a few months before the council had been blowing its own trumpet about the children service doing ‘well’ in a national grading.

She wanted to see a strategy which would attract and retain social workers.