Pressure on social workers endangering children, survey suggests

Mounting pressure on social workers means that many do not have the time or resources to properly protect vulnerable children, a new survey suggests.

Three quarters (73 per cent) of the 600 social workers surveyed by Community Care magazine said they struggled to properly protect children at risk, citing escalating demand for social services, lack of support and resources, and local authority budget cuts.

Eighty per cent of those surveyed said they thought budget cuts had left vulnerable children at risk of neglect and abuse. Eighty per cent also said child protection ‘thresholds’ had risen over the previous year, meaning they are only allowed to intervene in more serious situations.

Thirty per cent said thresholds of intervention in cases of suspected sexual abuse had risen, 31 per cent said this had happened for physical abuse and a hefty 78 per cent said intervention thresholds for neglect had risen in their areas.

Some of the survey respondents also claimed their councils were attempting to save money by excluding teenagers aged 14 or over from protection.

One social worker told the magazine: “We were told if you have a teenager on your case who is 14-16 years old then they cannot have child protection plans anymore, because they are either deemed ‘capable of voting with their feet’ or ‘able to self-protect’.”

Another said: “My colleagues and I are so worried. There is never enough time to work in the way you would want to, completing tasks thoroughly and writing up your case notes. The work feels tense and pressured. There is never any time to stop, think or reflect. Having no time to reflect can have a serious impact on our decision making, as can exhaustion. All of which will impact on the children and families we work with.”

Dame Clare Tickell, Chief Executive of charity Action for Children, said hard-pressed social workers needed much greater support.

“You can’t put a price on a child’s life. It is shocking if social workers are being prevented from protecting children because of budget cuts. We know that they want to help before children and families reach crisis point, but these figures suggest they are restricted from doing so. It’s time to give social workers the time and support they really need to get the job done.”

Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. You can visit her blog, Where Family Law Meets Family Life, here: