Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Their Job to Care; in the Third of a Series on Social Care HANNAH DAVIES Speaks to Newcastle's Head of Social Care on What They're Doing to Improve Conditions for the City's Children

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Their Job to Care; in the Third of a Series on Social Care HANNAH DAVIES Speaks to Newcastle's Head of Social Care on What They're Doing to Improve Conditions for the City's Children

Article excerpt

Byline: HANNAH DAVIES

MICK McCracken, Newcastle City Council's head of safeguarding and children's social care, seems a little on edge. And it's not surprising really.

Social services have come in for a lot of criticism over the years.

In late 2008 Haringey director of children's services Sharon Shoesmith was sacked for her role in the care of Baby P, whose suffering and death shocked the nation.

And a report published earlier this week, revealing the results of the British Association of Social Workers' survey of 1,390 social workers, found that 70% of those questioned admitted having been unable to protect a child because of the constraints of their job (I should add I interviewed Mick before this report came out). But whatever worries he does have, Mick is adamant that Newcastle social services department has improved after concerns about the way the Baby P case was handled.

He adds: "Every local authority in the country looked at social care after Baby P and in Newcastle I think we are in a pretty good position.

"That's not to say that we can't improve." Social services play a huge part in looking after the most vulnerable in our society - the elderly, the disabled and our children.

With high-profile neglect cases the number of children being taken into care by social services has increased by 40%.

Mick says: "This is largely because people are more aware of the issues and likely to report any concerns they have."

And whatever worries he has about the forthcoming Government cuts as part of the comprehensive spending review, he is keeping it more or less under his hat.

He said he could not give cast-iron guarantees that frontline services for children would not be affected by reductions in the council's budget.

But he added: "What we can say is there are other ways of reducing costs apart from in frontline services.

"We will have a budget for children's services and we will have a review. What we do is try to make every pound go a bit further.

"But we aren't looking to cut our support for our most vulnerable children and young people.

"We can't really say anything or guarantee anything because we don't know the situation ourselves."

The head of social services in a Lib-Dem controlled council, Mick most likely has a lot of pressures on him.

But I'm interested in how the care system works in our region, how a child enters the care system and how social services know how to help.

Mick says a call is put in to an initial response team.

These are social workers who make a decision whether or not to refer a case to a referral team and a decision is made within 24 hours.

An initial assessment is done within seven days, and often immediate support is given. A core assessment is then done. This is more detailed and takes place within 35 working days.

Social workers take the lead in this assessment but speak to health visitors and teachers who may also have an insight into the child's situation.

If a child is thought at any point of the process to be in immediate danger, action can be taken.

Mick says: "What we do now is focus on early intervention in the cases of vulnerable children, so any problems are dealt with before a crisis point is reached. …

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