Date: MON 26 JANUARY 2009
Shocking Social Work Survey Shows Child Protection is 'Ticking
Findings released by UNISON today (26 January), show that without
decisive action, it is only a matter of time before there is another
Baby P tragedy.
The UK’s largest public service union, which represents 300,000
social care workers including 40,000 social workers, has released
a damning report (Still Slipping through the net? - Front-line
staff assess children’s safeguarding process) showing that social
workers are struggling to cope due to vacant posts, increased
caseloads and inexperienced staff thrown in at the deep end.
Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said: “Our survey shows
that Child Protection Services are a ticking time bomb that could
explode at any minute. There are not enough staff, caseloads are
too big and social workers are spending 80% of their time on paperwork.
That is a lethal combination that will leave children exposed.
“Six years after the Laming enquiry into the tragic death of
Victoria Climbie, child protection workers are still struggling
to cope with heavy caseloads. Social workers are not being given
the time, training or resources to do their jobs effectively.
“Thanks to social workers many thousands of children have been
saved from abuse and neglect, but it is a daily battle. They come
under constant fire during high profile child abuse cases and
many have seen an increase in threats of violence against them
since the baby P case. There are already problems recruiting and
retaining social workers, we cannot afford to lose any more.
“Without decisive action it is only a matter of time before there
is another tragedy. We owe it to baby P and all those other children
at risk to re-think the way that child protection is organised.
That is why UNISON is calling for our eight-point plan to be put
into place in Scotland immediately.”
Report findings include:
- Six out of ten respondents work in teams where over 20% of
posts are vacant. More than a fifth have a vacancy rate of over
- Three quarters report that average caseloads for social workers
have increased since 2003.
- Nearly 60% say that staff who do not have a social work qualification,
or are newly qualified, are more likely to be doing child protection
work for which they are insufficiently trained or experienced
than in 2003.
- Twenty eight% believe that there is less access to adequate
supervision; with 52 per cent saying it has simply remained the
- Half of all respondents believe that social work services
are now worse resourced than in 2003, with only nine per cent
believing it is better.
- A third believe that the system has not improved over nearly
Issues include remote leadership and inexperienced management,
lack of focus on the rights of the child, problems with agencies
passing the buck on assessments and a need for more accountability
from outside agencies.
A separate survey which looked at violence against social workers
in general found that 65% had encountered verbal abuse, 26% physical
threat, 9% violence and 31% bullying in the last two years.
A social worker from the North, who wishes to remain anonymous,
said: “I have worked for six years in two local authorities in
child protection/court and children in care.
“I get threatened with violence over the phone by parents and
young people at least once a fortnight.
“I have also had threats made about myself and towards my family
and children, had my car vandalised on several occasions and have
even been locked in a house and threatened with needles.”
She added: “More recently, following the Baby P and all the negative
publicity surrounding social workers in the media, parents refer
to the case when they are unhappy with social work involvement.”
Another worker from Scotland said: “I have been threatened by
a client over the phone who left several messages stating that
I should die a horrible death and that they are going to kill
“Our professionalism is constantly attacked.”
UNISON’s eight-point plan (this is reflects the different position
Co-working on all child protection investigation visits:
child protection investigation visits to be done by two practitioners.
More social workers and support staff: an urgent action
plan to fill vacancies and to review staffing levels across all
social work teams.
National caseload management standards: enforced through
the inspection process and regularly audited by the council leadership,
with sanctions against employers who breach the Scottish Social
Services Council’s Code of Practice for Social Care Employers.
More resources: a planned programme of investment in
children and families’ social work.
Cull of bureaucracy: a root and branch zero-based review
of all bureaucracy.
To increase the responsiveness of and resources to the widely
respected Children’s Panel system: creating a system which
ensures that social workers can service it properly and that the
resources are in place to allow its decisions to be implemented.
Better support and more reflective practice: Social workers
should have at least two years post-qualifying experience before
being allocated child protection cases. There should be consistent,
high quality supervision that is both supportive and challenging.
Measures to rebuild morale, confidence and status of social
workers: redress the devastating impact on morale through
re-instigating the campaign run by the previous Scottish Executive
to promote positive public awareness about what social work achieves.
For Further Information Please Contact: Mandy McDowall
(Regional Officer) 07903 846 427(m) Chris Bartter (Communications
Officer) 0771 558 3729(m) For information on the report and position
across the UK contact: Mary Maguire – Head of Press and Broadcasting
-07771 548 957 Anne Mitchell – Press Officer – 07887 945 307