Huge Rise in Child Protection Cases across Teesside; Incidents Double in Five Years as Social Workers Struggle to Cope

Article excerpt

Byline: NEIL MACFARLANE

neil.macfarlane@eveninggazette.co.uk CHILD protection cases on Teesside have more than doubled over the past five years, and social workers warn they are struggling to cope.

The rise in reports of physical and sexual abuse comes after high profile scandals such as the death of Baby P. Unions warn social workers are becoming increasingly strained, and staff recruitment has not kept pace because it is getting harder to attract people to the profession.

One local council has even been offering "golden hellos" worth pounds 5,000 to new social workers.

Middlesbrough has the highest rate of cases in England, each of which can cost up to pounds 40,000 to deal with.

Children's charities have called for councils to do all they can to make sure staffing levels are maintained to protect children.

"We are concerned by the rising number of children who have become the subject of a child protection plan in the region," said a spokeswoman for the NSPCC.

"Many local authorities across the country have seen an increase in child protection referrals and this will inevitably place a greater strain on social services teams.

"It is vital that services for children are adequately financed and resourced in order to reduce the risk of children suffering harm."

Figures, which came to light in a written answer to Parliament by Education Minister Tim Loughton MP, show that reports in Middlesbrough, Stockton and Redcar and Cleveland have increased by more than 100%.

The statistics show the number of under-18s made subject to a Child Protection Plan in the years 2006 to 2010. Figures are recorded in rates per 10,000 children.

Middlesbrough had the highest rate last year with 109, compared to 43 in 2006. Stockton had 65 - up from 24 five years ago - while Redcar and Cleveland had 56, compared to 22 in 2006.

But the number of child protection social workers employed by councils has generally not increased at the same rate.

Redcar and Cleveland has the same number it had in 2006 - 54. Middlesbrough has gone from having 71 in 2006 to 83 now.

Stockton has had the biggest in staffing levels, rising from 58 in 2006 to 93 today.

Ian Campbell, Unison's Middlesbrough branch secretary said social workers have noticed a "significant increase" in their workload.

"One social worker I spoke to said that, by and large, the staff aren't coping with it particularly well," he said.

"Mangers are more often looking for reasons to close cases or downgrade them more urgently than they did before.

"I'm told that social workers are not able to give families all the attention they would like to or should do.

"A lot of work is being done late or outside of timescales, or occasionally not at all."

Mr Campbell said there has been an increase in the use of support workers, who often take on work that would normally be done by more qualified social workers.

The rise is in line with the national trend. It is believed the increase is related to the high profile case of baby Peter Connelly - who suffered from horrendous and sustained abuse at the hands of his mother's boyfriend, all of which was missed by social workers from London's Haringey Council.

Government regulations have been strengthened since the case, and that of Victoria Climbie, who died after years of abuse by her sadistic aunt and her boyfriend.

The negative publicity surrounding both cases has made it harder for councils to recruit new specialist staff.

A spokesman for Middlesbrough Council said that the rate of child protection cases in the town has recently fallen to 81.6. In the past year the authority has recruited 12 social workers to deal with the extra cases, and is hoping to take on more.

Gill Rollings, the council's director of children, families and learning, said: "Our social workers have seen their workloads increase, and that means they can't always devote the time they would like to every case. …