Cases of vulnerable children in York are being handled by unqualified staff instead of social workers, causing “inappropriate levels of risk”, an Ofsted inspection has found.
A damning report into the services run by City of York Council found there had been a decline in the quality of services for children in need of help and protection since the last inspection of children’s services in 2016.
Staff turnover was a huge factor in the deterioration of services, the report said, which was causing a “drift and delay” in plans for at-risk children.
While some effort had been made to sort out the problem, the report acknowledged, it warned “some children continue to be exposed to risk”.
The letter by inspectors Peter McEntee and Neil Penswick, said: “A practice of allocating children in need cases to unqualified staff (children in need practitioners) has meant that these staff have been asked to work with, and take responsibility for, complex cases and, sometimes, inappropriate levels of risk.”
Describing this practice as “unacceptable”, it added: “Newly qualified social work staff have also been expected to carry too much responsibility too early on in their development, including being given sole responsibility for child protection cases.”
Inspectors looked at a range of evidence during the visit on 17 July, including case discussions with social workers and team managers, and children’s records.
The letter, which was addressed to Amanda Hatton, corporate director children, education and communities at the council, said there was evidence that the problem was being addressed.
It added: “Recently appointed senior managers understand the extent of the deterioration and have begun to put in place policies and processes to both measure the extent of the impact of poorer practice and turn this around. A trajectory for change has been established.
“However, some children continue to be exposed to risk, as this change is too recent to have had an impact.
The inspectors recommended a number of measures, including reducing staff turnover, which is a problem across the UK.
Research by recruitment and training organisation Skills for Care found social work averaged a 15 per cent staff turnover rate in the 2017/18 financial year. During this time, one in five social workers had been in their role less than 12 months and 18 per cent had less than three years’ experience.
The job vacancy rate of social work was one in 10 - more than three times the average across all job sectors.
An NSPCC spokesperson told the Yorkshire Post: “It is imperative that children’s services in York are able to provide timely and effective support for vulnerable children and guarantee their safety and wellbeing.
“Sadly, across the country, some of our most vulnerable children face risk and abuse because of unacceptable budgetary pressures and high staff turnover. It is vital that resources are in place to help authorities like York be there for our children when they need help the most.”
Coun. Ian Cuthbertson, executive member for children, young people and education at City of York Council, welcomed Ofsted’s recommendations and said keeping children safe was “the most important role of any local authority”.
He added: “We had identified certain issues in our Children Services and, as a result, have invested over £300,000 to accelerate improvements.
“I am pleased that Ofsted’s letter notes this, stating positively that the council is ‘on a trajectory of change’ and has ‘political support’ to put effective policies and processes in place to make further improvements.
“Among the changes already made by a new senior leadership team include establishing an Improvement Board, commissioning a review of all cases, restructuring teams and increasing training.
“We will continue to work closely with Ofsted, our partners, staff and the Department for Education, to ensure that our children have the best possible services.”