Bradford Council’s children’s services department has been rated inadequate since 2018 and a shortage of full-time social workers, who can see children regularlyand form relationships, is seen as the main issue which is preventing improvements from being made.
The department was also heavily criticised earlier this week for being over reliant on agency social workers when opportunities to save toddler Star Hobson were missed, before she was murdered in September 2020, and one of these workers was found to have left without completing an important assessment.
But since her death, the number of agency workers has increased from 136 to 169 and they now make up almost 40 per cent of social workers.
The council department spent £4.3m on the temporary workers in 2018/19, but last year the total cost surpassed £20m and they now cost around £2m a month.
Kersten England, chief executive of Bradford Council, has said the council is taking steps to improve retention of permanent social workers, such as reviewing pay, introducing retention payments, and looking at overseas recruitment.
In January, the Government stripped the council over control of the department after commissioner Steve Walker found it does not have the capacity or capability to make the changes that are needed, claiming the social worker shortage is the “main factor”.
Earlier this week, the Commons’ Education Select Committee heard this his social-worker shortage is one of the reasons why opportunities to save toddler Star were missed.
The 16-month-old was killed at home in Keighley by her mother’s girlfriend, Savannah Brockhill, after she suffered months of abuse, and her family asked social workers to intervene five times before her death.
Annie Hudson, who chaired a safeguarding review of the case, said Bradford Council was “over reliant” on agency social workers before Star’s death.
She told MPs that one agency worker left, with one week’s notice, and her assessment of Star was not finished, adding: “That had very problematic consequences.”
Ms Hudson also said concerns raised by the toddler’s family were “not listened to” and “genuinely disregarded” when they raised concerns about her safety.
During the hearing, Ms England said that assessments made about Star’s situation were “too positive and optimistic”, claims made by her mother and partner were “taken at face value” and the social workers were “distracted or dissuaded from probing further”.
Brockhill was jailed for life, with a minimum term of 25 years, for murdering Star at Bradford Crown Court in December.
The toddler’s mother, Frankie Smith, 20, was jailed for causing or allowing the her death.