Child Safeguarding Concerns
In March 2013 OFSTED rated Cheshire East Council’s child safeguarding as inadequate. The Council is now in special measures and regular reports are required to measure the Council’s progress in improving its performance. The latest report was discussed at the Corporate Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday.
In order to address this situation Cheshire East Council has recruited new permanently contracted social workers in an attempt to reduce dependence on agency workers. However, experienced social workers are leaving the Council faster than new social workers are being recruited, so that the percentage of agency social workers is actually increasing. In March at the time of the OFSTED report the percentage of agency social workers was 25%. Since then it has increased steadily to 27.1% in September and 32.8% in December.
It is very disturbing that since the new management was put in place, so many experienced, established staff have left. This staff turnover affects children. In the majority of cases the same social worker will stay with a case for 6 weeks or 6 months if that is what is required. Regrettably, however, currently, in a number of cases, social workers are moving on and have to be replaced, leading to a lack of continuity and stability for the child.
Staff surveys have shown that money saving reforms such as ‘hot-desking’ have caused staff frustration. At the meeting on Tuesday, when Labour councillors raised these issues, they were assured that social workers will be allocated their own desks, as part of efforts to improve staff retention.
Cllr Ken Edwards, Labour Councillor for Macclesfield Central, said, “To provide a high standard of child protection and care, Cheshire East requires a team of permanent employed skilled and experienced people. We need to work towards that aim. Agency workers form a vital back up but inevitably cannot provide the same level of continuous care and continuity of service provided by permanent staff.
Labour councillors welcome the recognition that the recruitment of skilled and experienced social workers willing to take on the challenging responsibilities involved in child protection is of the highest priority. We welcome the concentration in improving conditions for child protection workers and we wish Senior Officers every success in their recruitment programme. We want to see Cheshire East become the preferred authority because we believe our children require the highest standard of safeguarding and protection that can be attained.”
Labour Group Leader Cllr David Newton, said, “There are some aspects of Cheshire East Council’s provision for vulnerable children that are good. For example a children’s care home in Crewe recently received an ‘excellent’ OFSTED rating. Improvements to the initial assessment of cases by Cheshire East Council are also welcome. However, the failings of Cheshire East Council in retaining experienced social workers are a matter of concern.”
Cllr Sam Corcoran, Labour Cllr for Sandbach Heath & East, said, “A few years ago the Council made far too many social workers redundant. Now we are desperately trying to recruit more social workers and having to pay agency rates to fill the gaps. The thoughtless Conservative cuts are costing us dearly, not just in monetary terms but more importantly in the quality of care to the most vulnerable in our society. What is even more depressing is that some minor cuts, like hot-desking and lack of suitable meeting rooms could be causing staff to leave, resulting in huge recruitment costs and agency worker bills. There are too many cuts to services that actually end up costing us money.”