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UNISON, the UK’s largest union, is calling for an urgent cash injection into child protection and mental health services for vulnerable children, as social workers struggle to keep up with demand. The call comes in the wake of a new report from the Centre for Social Justice for Kidsco which says that children are suffering and left unprotected because the service is being starved of funds.
The difficulties that social workers face are fuelled by official figures showing that councils cut spending on staff in children’s social services by £147m between 2010/11 and 2012/13, as central government slashed more than £5 billion from the grants it made to local councils.
Tony Rabaiotti, West Midlands Regional Manager, said:
“We know that social workers live with a daily struggle to deal with the sheer volume of work protecting and supporting children. Budget cuts have led to social work shortages and to a focus on crisis management rather than early intervention. At the same time, welfare cuts, and rising child poverty mean more and more children need help. Social workers are under constant pressure to close cases, and to find the cheapest placement options, rather than what would be the best for the child. This may create short term savings but it harms vulnerable children and costs taxpayers more in the longer term. Children’s needs become more critical and they end up staying in the system for longer.
“The Government likes to talk up local democracy but is starving councils of funding. It has cut more than £5bn from grants, forcing councils to make impossible choices. It is time the Coalition woke up to the tragic consequences of its cuts and austerity agenda on children. It needs to make an urgent cash injection into child protection and mental health services for vulnerable children to ease the suffering now. And it needs to ensure that councils are enabled to fulfil their statutory obligations and remain accountable to local people for how they support children. ”
A recent UNISON and Community Care survey of social work staff across the UK laid bare the day to day struggles in Social Work Watch*. It also showed how staff go on battling and arguing for what is best for children in hundreds of different ways every day.
• 39% of children’s social workers responding said that they left work with serious concerns about one or more of their cases, mainly because they were not able to spend time with a particular child or because of the pressure of paperwork.
• 55% said their ability to make a difference for children day to day was affected by cuts to budgets and resources.
• The average child protection case load was 23 cases and over half of respondents were covering extra cases on the day because of shortages.
Examples from the survey:
“I am having to close cases that really need continued support because of diminished resources.”
Senior social worker, West Midlands
“My caseload is very high and does not allow me time to effectively plan for families. This means that children are involved in services for longer and the harm/abuse they experience is likely to continue for longer due to delay in effective and planned interventions.”
Social worker, South East
UNISON’s Charter for Change includes
1. National governments must urgently focus on how to provide extra funding to enable more manageable working conditions in social work – they should not get distracted from this by tinkering with professional regulation, changing initial education or pursuing unpopular privatisation agendas.
2. Employers should maintain a register where instances of unmet need are logged together with details of how they create greater cost and demand on services further down the line – this will provide an important evidence base to support the political and economic case for ongoing additional funding for social work services.
3. There must be an urgent injection of funding to stabilise services together with a statutory duty and resources to provide early help – this will avoid the unnecessary costs associated with waiting till children reach crisis when an early intervention can deal with need at lower cost.
4. Effective workload management for social work staff is critical and should be a statutory requirement in all services – it is dangerous that nearly three-quarters of respondents had no system for ensuring that their caseload was safe and manageable. The latest evidence from Ofsted confirms what has long been known, that high caseloads make it impossible for social workers to protect people, whereas well-functioning councils have systems for close monitoring of workloads. Social workers should have an alternative route to raise concerns when they believe their caseload is at dangerous levels, outside the normal line management route.
5. All social work services should be required to regularly publish data on average caseloads so that they can be held to account for the consequences when caseloads are allowed to spiral upwards.


Notes to Editors
**Social Work Watch – inside an average day in social work. How social work staff support and protect people against all the odds.
On 29 April 2014 1140 social workers took part in Social Work Watch – a joint initiative between UNISON and Community Care.

Contact details:

Simon Holder
Communications Area Organiser
Direct line – 01216853105
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