Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Trust in social workers 'dented'

Baby P
Fewer social workers for children could put youngsters at risk, the LGA says

Many people have lower opinions of child social workers since the Baby P case, a Local Government Association (LGA) poll has suggested.

Of the 1,000 people surveyed by ComRes, 42% said their view had worsened.

A further 78% backed more funding for children's social services, while 62% thought protecting a child was more down to individuals than the state.

Meanwhile, child protection expert Lord Laming has rejected the idea children's deaths were "inevitable".

'Toughest job'

Baby P died in August 2007 at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger - despite being on the child protection register and receiving 60 contacts from the authorities.

The LGA, which is holding a child protection conference, says 10% of child social worker jobs remain vacant.

The LGA conference follows the release of Lord Laming's review into child protection in England calling for changes in the social work profession.

Earlier he told the Commons Children, Schools and Families committee that the British public expected that children who are already known to social services should be protected. To dismiss their deaths as "inevitable", he said, was a "counsel of despair".

We can and must do better
Lord Laming

He said: "They don't expect that when a child is killed or injured because of the result of a sudden explosive anger by an adult, that is entirely out of character and unpredictable, that can be prevented.

"But that is hugely different from protecting a child that has already been identified by the key services as a child that is vulnerable to deliberate harm or neglect, and I think we can and must do better."

Councillor Margaret Eaton, who is chairing the LGA conference, said: "There are real difficulties for councils in recruiting and retaining high calibre child social worker staff.

"We must look to the future and recruit and retain staff so that they can protect the most vulnerable children in society.

Plugging the gaps

"There should be a long-term commitment by all those who support social workers to prove to people that we now need them more than ever if we are to protect children from abuse.

"Being a child social worker is one of the toughest jobs in Britain.

"Encouraging back those who have been at the frontline tirelessly working to save the lives of vulnerable children is key to helping plug the gaps and ensure that we... do everything we can to keep them safe."

In February the Conservatives said there was a "real crisis" in social work with one in seven posts in England unfilled.

Two in three councils have problems recruiting child social workers - almost double the number for their adult equivalents
Four in 10 have problems retaining child social workers, compared to one in four for adult social workers
Source: LGA survey, July-Sept 2008

That compared to one in three just before the Baby P case was made public in November 2008, they said.

Despite the shortage, the LGA survey found that 52% would recommend social work as a career to friends and family while 43% would not, and the rest did not know.

By comparison, in December 2008 there were just 39% who would recommend the profession to a child, the LGA said.

Elsewhere, the LGA poll showed that when it came to protecting a child at risk living at home, 62% thought friends, family and neighbours should have the most responsibility.

'Pinch point'

That compared to 35% who thought it fell to social workers, police, teachers and doctors. The rest were not sure.

In January, Baby P council Haringey appealed to other local authorities to lend it social workers.

Children's services director Peter Lewis said skilled staff were needed to address a "pinch point" in assessing suspected abuse cases.

The LGA says of the local councils struggling with recruitment, 89% had trouble finding experienced child social workers.

Around 5,500 child social workers are agency staff, it added.

The LGA recently launched a campaign to recruit social workers, fearing shortages could put youngsters at risk.

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