High turnover of social workers in York ‘puts vulnerable children at risk’

Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Too many vulnerable children in York have had their social worker changed repeatedly – leading to delays in making youngsters’ lives better, according to Ofsted.

The education watchdog raised concerns about a high turnover of staff at City of York Council’s children’s services department.

And they fear that unqualified staff are taking responsibility for youngsters with complex needs – leading to “inappropriate levels of risk”.

But the inspectors said some changes have already been made, although it is too early to know if they have had an impact.

Deterioration in services

Ofsted inspector Peter McEntee said there has been a “deterioration” in services for children in need of help or protection during the past three years.

His report said:

  • Too many children have had too many changes of social worker, and this has resulted in a loss of focus on what needs to happen to make children’s lives better.

    A practice of allocating children in need cases to unqualified staff (children in need practitioners) has meant that these staff have been asked to work with, and take responsibility for, complex cases and, sometimes, inappropriate levels of risk.

    Newly qualified social work staff have also been expected to carry too much responsibility too early on in their development, including being given sole responsibility for child protection cases.

But he added that the council is working to recruit more people and better support newly qualified staff.

More investment

Cllr Ian Cuthbertson
Cllr Ian Cuthbertson, executive member for children, said: “Keeping children safe is the most important role of any local authority, which is why we welcome Ofsted’s visit and recommendations.

“We had identified certain issues in our children services and, as a result, have invested more than £300,000 to accelerate improvements.I am pleased that Ofsted’s letter notes this, stating positively that the council is ‘on a trajectory of change’ and has ‘political support’ to put effective policies and processes in place to make further improvements.

“Among the changes already made by a new senior leadership team include establishing an improvement board, commissioning a review of all cases, restructuring teams and increasing training.”

“We will continue to work closely with Ofsted, our partners, staff and the Department for Education, to ensure that our children have the best possible services.”

Cllr Fiona Fitzpatrick from the Labour group said: “We welcome the hard work frontline staff are doing to help protect children in need in York, in what are evidently very trying circumstances.

“This judgment is damning and shows consecutive Liberal Democrat political administrations have had their focus elsewhere, rather than on one of the council’s core responsibilities; reducing risk to vulnerable children and helping to keep them safe.”