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10 March 2010 | PR 10/45

Loughborough research highlights challenges facing the social work profession in the wake of Laming report

Experts at Loughborough University’s Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR) have highlighted the challenges and pressures faced by local authorities due to increases in referrals and workloads.

The study, which was commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA), reviewed recommendations in Lord Laming’s The protection of children in England: a progress report which was issued in 2009 in the wake of the Baby Peter Connelly scandal.  

The research indicates that difficulties faced would be exacerbated by the implementation of some of Lord Laming’s recommendations.

The team of researchers, led by research fellow Lisa Holmes with Emily Munro and Jean Soper, received responses from 46 local authorities as part of a national survey and carried out in depth work with nine of them.
Social workers are having to hold higher caseloads than they feel they can comfortably manage to respond to increases in referrals to children’s social care. This is seen to be linked to public and professional anxieties and fears following the Baby Peter Connelly case as well as the current economic climate and pressures facing families. 

“Our research highlights the complex and demanding nature of child protection work and the challenges social workers are facing as they strive to provide a quality service to protect children and promote their welfare in a climate of finite resources,” explains Lisa.  

Other key themes and concerns included recruitment and retention of staff, interagency working, electronic recording systems, finance and budgets, and the profession’s public image and
portrayal by the media.

As a result of these findings, the LGA has proposed a five point plan to ensure social work reforms result in the best possible protection of vulnerable children. Furthermore, the LGA is arguing recommendation 19(1), which is likely to have the biggest impact on social work teams, be revised.

Recommendation 19(1) requires every referral from another professional to be followed up by a formal process known as an initial assessment. On average, only 13% of the time taken to complete an initial assessment is spent with the child or family but 87% is spent on paperwork and process.

Loughborough’s research team also found that if recommendation 19(1) was to be fully implemented:

 Councils are working tirelessly to support their social work teams as part of efforts to solve issues of recruitment and retention. Social workers spoken to by the researchers frequently emphasised their desire to spend as much time as possible helping children and their families rather than dealing with bureaucracy.

Cllr Shireen Ritchie, Chair of the LGA Children and Young People board, said:

“Every right-minded person wants to know everything possible is being done to keep children safe from harm. Money is an ugly topic to raise when the issue is the safety and wellbeing of children, but it would be irresponsible to pretend social work teams can make major changes to how they operate without there being implications for their workload and resources.

“The aim of this research is to help turn well-meaning proposals into practices which strengthen the safety net which keeps children safe from harm. There has to be recognition of what dedicated social workers all over the country are dealing with every day, the pressures placed on them and the valuable expertise they can share.

“Children who are at risk, and families which are struggling, will benefit more from additional time with experienced social workers than they will from an increase in the number of forms filled in about them.  Some paperwork is essential to doing the best possible job, but it is right to try to reduce bureaucracy where it can ease the pressure on social workers and increase the quality of care offered to children?

“It is time to show more trust in our social workers to do the right thing for children. It is time for professionals like the police and health service workers to step up to the mark and show they understand the part they have to play in helping social workers reach the most vulnerable children first.

“The aim now is to find the right way forward, to make services that protect children the best they’ve ever been while properly supporting the people who do this vital work.”

The LGA have outlined the following five point plan to ensure social work reforms lead to the best possible child protection systems:

−ENDS−

For all media enquiries contact:

Amanda Overend
Senior PR Officer
Loughborough University
T : 01509 228686
E: A.J.Overend@lboro.ac.uk 

Notes for editors:

1. Lord Laming’s report, The protection of children in England: a progress report, was drawn up in the wake of the baby Peter Connelly case in Haringey and made a total of 58 recommendations to help improve child protection, all of which were accepted by government.

2. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2009 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top five universities in the UK, and has topped the Times Higher Education league for the UK’s Best Student Experience every year since the poll's inception in 2006. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

It is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

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