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Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Baby P case puts strain on Somerset social workers

Somerset social worker (l) with client
Liz (l), a social worker in North Somerset, with a client

People working in child protection in Somerset say their workload has 'shot up' in the last few months due to people being more aware of children at risk.

It follows the death of Baby P, otherwise known as Baby Peter, in Haringey, north London - the 17-month-old died after suffering a total of 50 injuries despite 60 visits from social workers, doctors and police.

And the high profile case has had a big impact on the lives of social workers here.

Councils in Somerset, North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) have all seen a big rise in the number of people reporting cases where they think a child is at risk.

In Somerset alone they've seen an extra 2,000 referrals in the last year.

In North Somerset it's a similar story, where referrals have shot up by a third.

Liz has worked in children's social care for over 30 years. She says people were very anxious following the death of Baby P.

"Senior managers got very nervous and so all cases, well a lot more cases, would be going into the court arena rather than remaining on a child protection plan because nobody wanted to carry the risk of another Baby P," she said.

"It's very rare that we don't carry a certain amount of risk but I think what happened after Baby P was that people weren't prepared to carry a certain level of risk anymore - they wanted the courts to make the decision."

REFERRALS - YEAR BY YEAR
BANES 07/08: 1,036 and BANES 08/09: 1,152
N.Somerset 08: 158 and N.Somerset 09: 298
Somerset 07/08: 3,535 and Somerset 08/09: 5,510

Tim Stafford, manager for children's social care in South Somerset, agrees.

"Certainly members of the public are more aware from what they've heard about the Baby Peter case," he said.

"I think they're referring to us more quickly, or perhaps when they wouldn't have done so before.

"Other professionals are understandably concerned as well and would sometimes refer when maybe they wouldn't have done previously.

"Sometimes we will then uncover things that we are concerned about as well. So, I think there [are] a lot of things out there actually which before we weren't probably seeing and now we are."

For the children in the county who might be in danger, the figures are good news but it does mean more work for social workers.

Recruitment 'crisis'

Managers told BBC Somerset they have not been given any extra resources to cope with the extra workload and, on top of this, there is a real problem filling posts and retaining staff in child protection services.

The number of vacancies has risen across Somerset - for example, in North Somerset one in every five posts is currently vacant.

Bath and North East Somerset had four vacancies from November 2007 to 2008, but that number has doubled for November 2008 to 2009.

The number of full time equivalent children's social worker posts (FTE) in North Somerset during November 2007 was 11.71; that has risen to 15.75 in November 2009.

In Somerset, 8.5 positions out of 120 are currently vacant - the council had 16 social worker jobs on offer in the summer but could fill only 5.

Toni Mayo, a newly qualified social worker who has chosen to work in child protection in North Somerset, admits that many people on her course were put off the job.

"I felt that this was politically where I needed to come because of the crisis there was going to be in child protection recruitment after Baby P.

"I think more people did want to go into adult services because there's an idea at university that you'll have a lower case load, that you'll actually get to spend more time directly with people and that you're not managing the same level of risk.

"Also there's less social workers wanting to do it [work with children]."




SEE ALSO
Social work 'needs to flourish'
01 Dec 09 |  Today
Probe into Ofsted Baby P e-mails
02 Dec 09 |  London
Timeline: Key events in baby case
10 Aug 09 |  London


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