6th Dec, 2019

Former social worker criticises Worcestershire County Council over 'failing' Children's Services

A FORMER frontline employee of Worcestershire Children’s Services has slammed the county council and senior management over its handling of the department and its future plans, claiming cash-saving measures are being put ahead of youngsters’ well-being.

The ex-social worker, who did not want to be named, said an obsession with cost-cutting was putting already vulnerable children and their families more at risk than they were already.

Claims have been made that deadlines were put on cases and social workers were told to ‘swap quality for quantity’ in a bid to reduce the workload, which led to frontline staff feeling uncomfortable about the way they were told to approach cases.

“The prioritisation of saving money at all costs caused and encouraged unethical and unsafe decision making.

“It must be remembered these assessments were to judge the risk to children, their circumstances and the support of entire families needed in order to keep them together safely and happy.

“It was a case of doing the cheap thing, not the right thing,” said the former employee.

The claimant said although numerous changes were made, children’s services was no better off and concerns raised collectively by social workers were ignored.

“We proposed caps on caseloads and increasing the number of staff to allow safe practice.

“Early help services are crucial to the running of an effective child protection system, yet in late 2016 funding for these services was cut by 50 per cent.”

The social worker said senior management told them that, because of a reduction in capacity, families could be referred to charitable early help services across Worcestershire.

“It soon became apparent however thresholds were rising across the charity sector due to cuts, meaning some families would fall through the net altogether.”

The claimant said social workers felt, while the chief executive of the children’s services was paid more than £180,000-a-year, that distribution of resources was top heavy and some of that should be redirected to the frontline.

The former social worker added that while agreeing with the analysis from Trevor Doughty, the non-executive Government minister, who wrote a damning report on children’s services, they did not agree with taking the service out of local authority control and applying a new model.

“That leaves the service wide open to privatisation in the future and in a trust or similar model accountability would be lost.”

It would also, the claimant anticipated, cost £4million to set up with administration, new computer systems and training.

“Children’s services needs to remain in local authority control and children must be placed at the centre of the system with resource implications considered second.

“Children’s safety and keeping families together via early intervention is worth the money.

“Do the public want profit to be put before the wellbeing of vulnerable children? Social workers do not.”

Steve Stewart, chief executive of Worcestershire County Council, said: “We don’t think that it’s helpful to respond to the claims of an anonymous individual who may or may not have gained some experience of working in Children’s Social Care.

“Instead we would rather point to the evidence from Ofsted and the latest report from their most recent monitoring visit.

“Inspectors have identified that we have made tangible improvements here in Worcestershire.

“Ofsted acknowledges the whole-council’s commitment to improving services.

“Inspectors have seen that the significant investments that we have made in additional staffing has supported those improvements.”

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