Fears for vulnerable children as social care system ‘at breaking point’

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The social care system is at breaking point according to a new survey of child protection staff, which shows 88 per cent of social workers fear cuts are putting vulnerable children’s lives at risk.

Nearly five years after a series of failures in Yorkshire, including the deaths of seven children in Doncaster, the body representing social workers yesterday warned the profession was in a “dire” state.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said the vast majority of its members were concerned about unmanageable caseloads, despite the problem being blamed for a series of high-profile failures.

Ministers pledged to transform social services after seven children died in Doncaster over five years, and after the case of Shannon Matthews, who was kidnapped by her family in Dewsbury in 2008.

But yesterday the BASW said 1,100 social workers were surveyed in March, with 88 per cent saying vulnerable lives could be put at risk by cuts and 85 per cent reporting notable cuts in the last 12 months.

Some 77 per cent were concerned about unmanageable caseloads; 65 per cent were concerned about use of unqualified staff and 46 per cent said they were afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions.

The BASW said that despite government pledges to protect frontline services, cuts had increased caseloads and stopped social workers from spending time with vulnerable children and adults.

Child protection lapses were also blamed for an attack by two young brothers on two other young boys in Edlington, near Doncaster, in 2009 and for the death of Baby P, Peter Connelly, in Haringey, north London, in 2007.

One social worker reported working at “dangerous caseload levels” while another described the situation in their team as “another serious case review waiting to happen”.

The survey found that cuts in back-office staff meant that social workers were spending even more time on administration than before, including having to clean toilets, buy their own stamps and clean their own offices instead of spending time with children and adults at serious risk of harm.

BASW said it has written to Education Secretary Michael Gove to raise its concerns about the state of social work.

Association chief executive Hilton Dawson said: “The survey statistics are damning, and the hundreds of comments we have had from social workers are deeply alarming.

“The Government pledged in 2010 to protect front-line social workers, yet by axing support staff they have turned social workers into glorified typists.”