Page last updated at 16:37 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Ed Balls promises 23m extra for social workers

By Margaret Ryan
BBC News

Baby P
Baby P's death sparked a review into children's services

An extra £23m is to be put into front-line social work, Children's Secretary Ed Balls has announced.

Summaries of official inquiries into the most serious cases of child abuse in England will be clearer, he added.

These were part of a package of measures he unveiled, a year after Lord Laming's review into child protection in the aftermath of the Baby P case.

But the Conservatives said Serious Case Reviews should be published in full and Mr Balls's response was "inadequate".

The children's secretary was also warned by a government adviser in a new report that a shortage of funding could put children at risk.

The £23m will go into a new social improvement fund to reduce pressure on front-line social workers.

There will also be £15m to improve IT systems in local areas.

Local authorities will decide how to spend the extra money.

Speaking at a family centre in Wandsworth, London, Mr Balls said: "I think when people look at the progress we have made they will agree that we are in a much better place than we were. There is still a long way to go."

I won't be proposing any changes that will undermine child protection and the social work agenda
Children's Secretary Ed Balls

He said executive summaries of Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) will be fuller and explain what action has been taken but the findings will not be published in full.

Serious case reviews are inquiries into the death or serious injury of a child where abuse or neglect is known to be a factor.

Mr Balls said the reports into such cases as those in Doncaster and Edlington had paid too much attention to the "lessons learned" and not enough on setting out clearly what had happened.

Shadow education secretary Michael Gove said: "We have to learn all the lessons from child deaths to ensure child safety in future. Ed Balls's response is inadequate and he is in denial about the scale of the problem."

He said the government had to be more open by publishing findings in full to restore public confidence.

Funding concerns

Also at the family centre was the government's independent adviser on the safety of children Sir Roger Singleton, who in his first annual report published today has expressed concern about future public spending cuts.

He warned in the report: "If these reductions fall on child protection and safeguarding budgets within various organisations, the capacity for relevant services to keep children safe will inevitably be diminished."

Responding to this concern, Mr Balls said: "I won't be proposing any changes that will undermine child protection and the social work agenda."

But he said he could not give any assurances for after 2011 and he could not "give comfort" on what the spending review would decide or what local authorities would do on levels of council tax.

Sir Roger told BBC News: "All parties have to step up to the plate on funding. Both national and local politicians need to ask what priority they are going to attach to this."

He stressed that while high profile cases hit the headlines it was important to remember the good work being done by agencies to protect children.

"There are deeply disturbing cases and it is right that they are exposed but we have between 30,000-40,000 children on child protection plans who are being kept safe."

"I am not trying to justify the indefensible where children have been abused or have died but we should present the picture in the round."

Social worker vacancies

Mr Balls was keen to point out that there had been 50,000 inquiries from people interested in going into social work since last September.

But there are still 5,000 vacancies in children's social work in England waiting to be filled.

Lord Laming welcomed the government's announcements a year on from when he made 58 recommendations for improving children's services in England in the wake of the Baby Peter case.

He said today's funding announcement for social work marked a "major landmark in the recruitment of front-line staff".

Lord Laming's review was commissioned by the government after the failure of social workers in the London borough of Haringey to prevent the abuse and death of 17-month-old Baby Peter.

His report last year said too many authorities had failed to adopt reforms introduced after the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie in February 2000.

The government also announced plans to implement recommendations made by its social work taskforce in December to transform the profession.

These include creating a national college for social work and changing the structure of the profession to keep more experienced staff on the front line.

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