Social Workers Vote with Feet

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL DALE

Vacancy rates for social care staff at Birmingham City Council are significantly greater than similar cities with high levels of deprivation, new figures show.

A total of 420 posts across children's social care were vacant at the end of December last year - equivalent to a fifth of the total workforce.

That's an improvement on the position at the end of 2008, when a quarter of posts were unfilled.

When a much-publicised council effort to recruit social workers and other care staff began 18 months ago, Birmingham's vacancy figure was twice as high as Coventry and four times greater than Sandwell, which is routinely described as one of the poorest boroughs in the country.

Walsall, Wolverhampton, Derby, Bradford and Barking & Dagenham also find it easier than Birmingham to retain social care staff.

Birmingham City Council responded by hiring 133 agency staff, but 288 social care posts remained unfilled at the end of 2009. The statistics challenge the city council's claim that difficulties in recruiting and retaining social workers merely reflect a national trend, according to Unison regional local government spokesman Tony Rabaiotti.

He said it was clear problems in Birmingham were worse than elsewhere, something he put down to damaging publicity resulting from the poor performance of the children's social care service and the "thankless task" facing city social workers.

The department is currently working to a Government improvement plan after the care of children at risk of abuse was deemed inadequate by Ofsted.

At least 18 youngsters have died in Birmingham as a result of neglect and abuse since 2006, with more than half known to social services. They include seven-yearold Khyra Ishaq who was starved to death by her mother and stepfather Let down: Khyra starved to death by mother and step-despite warnings by teachers about her deteriorating physical condition.

Social workers failed to recognise that they had legal powers to enter the house where she was being held in Handsworth in order to conduct a full investigation into her condition, a high court judge ruled.

A serious case review to determine lessons to be learnt from Khyra's case is being conducted by the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board. …