Child Tragedy ‘Waiting To Happen’- Unison

Child protection services in Scotland are a “ticking timebomb”, with social workers struggling to cope with increased caseloads and staff shortages, a leading union warned today.

Unison says it is only a matter of time before there is another Baby P tragedy.

The claims were dismissed last night by the leader of Aberdeen City Council, a local authority whose child protection services have faced heavy criticism in recent months.

Kate Dean stressed the service in the city had been turned around following publication of a scathing report that found 10 out of 18 categories weak, four unsatisfactory and four satisfactory.

According to Unison, which represents 300,000 social care workers, including 40,000 social workers, the social workers in Scotland are struggling to cope because of vacant posts, increased caseloads and inexperienced staff thrown in at the deep end.

General secretary Dave Prentis said: “Our survey shows that child protection services are a ticking timebomb that could explode at any minute.”

He added that Unison members had received more threats of violence since the death of Baby P, a 17-month-old boy who died in London after suffering more than 50 injuries.

“Thanks to social workers, many thousands of children have been saved from abuse and neglect, but it is a daily battle,” Mr Prentis said.

“They come under constant fire during high-profile child abuse cases and many have seen an increase in threats of violence against them since the Baby P case.

“There are already problems recruiting and retaining social workers. We cannot afford to lose any more.”

Unison’s survey comes just weeks after the HM Inspectorate of Education revealed that Aberdeen City Council’s child protection services were not providing the support and protection young people needed.

Troubleshooter Philip Cotterill was recruited last summer to overhaul the beleaguered department and last month the local authority’s fostering and adoption services were praised by government inspectors, with Mr Cotterill described as the “catalyst” for change.

Mrs Dean insisted last night that the city’s child protection services continued to strive towards improvement.

“Problems were identified in our last inspection and an action plan was formulated,” she said. “We are well through implementation of that and (Children and Early Years Minister) Adam Ingram said he was extremely happy with the services when he visited this month.

“We are as confident as we can be about the level of protection available for children in Aberdeen.”

Mrs Dean added that Unison should contact the local authority if it had identified any specific problems in Aberdeen.

The publication of Unison’s report coincided with an announcement by Mr Ingram, who revealed that Scotland was to have the UK’s first hub of child protection expertise.

The Multi-Agency Resource Service (Mars), to be based at Stirling University, will help councils and other child protection agencies work through difficult cases and share good practice.

Mr Ingram said: “Scotland’s child protection services undergo thorough inspections to maintain high standards but we always want to continue improving measures for children at risk.

“That’s why we are leading the way and setting up this pioneering hub of expertise – the first of its kind in the UK – which will let agencies draw on advice and support from international leaders in the field.”