Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Friday, 27 March 2009

Child protection resource warning

Boy sitting alone
Services in Aberdeen and Moray have been criticised in recent months

A lack of resources means social workers dealing with vulnerable children have "one hand tied behind their back", a union has warned.

Leaders of the Unison union said there were "too few resources to match too many children at risk".

The union is to raise the issue at a child protection conference in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Government said it was committed to protecting children from neglect and abuse.

Inspectors have made serious criticisms of child protection services in two council areas in recent months.

A report last November stated inspectors were not confident all children at risk of harm, abuse or neglect in Aberdeen were receiving the help and support they needed, while last month similar criticisms were made of Moray social services.

John Stevenson, a member of Unison's social work issues group, said the high standards that were expected of child protection services could not be achieved without the necessary tools to do the job.

To ignore the fact that there are too few people to achieve the standards we all want just covers up the problem
John Stevenson

Speaking ahead of Friday's conference, he said: "You only have to divide the number of children assessed as being in need with the number of social workers available across Scotland to see where the problem lies.

"Our members want to work to high standards. They want to be accountable and most of all they want to protect children.

"But they tell us that too often they are being asked to do this with one hand tied behind their back."

Unison said a UK-wide survey of social work staff it had recently carried out suggested there were problems such as reduced resources, staff vacancies and workers having to deal with increased caseloads and excessive bureaucracy.

Mr Stevenson said: "Inspections rightly point to practice and leadership issues but they never explicitly address resources.

"To ignore the fact that there are too few people to achieve the standards we all want just covers up the problem."

Inspection system

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "The number of social workers in Scotland has consistently increased over recent years and the latest official statistics show vacancy rates in Scotland for children and families social workers is less than 8%."

He said the Scottish Government provided £35m a year for college courses supporting social work services and was providing councils with record levels of funding.

"To help staff feel safe in alerting senior managers if they feel the intensity or volume of their caseloads are leaving children at risk, the children's minister recently wrote to child protection agencies reminding them of their obligation to ensure policies are in place which allow workers to speak out," the spokesman said.

"Scotland already has most robust child protection inspection system in the UK, allowing problems to be identified quickly and action taken immediately.

"We also recently launched a review of guidance on child protection practices, new targeted inspections to help raise standards in struggling areas and announced that the UK's first hub of child protection expertise is to be set up in Scotland."

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