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CRUSHED BY WORKLOAD; Concern over care of children as report reveals social work crisis.

Byline: SANDY McKENZIE

A CRISIS in the care of vulnerable children in Middlesbrough was laid bare in a report today.

A Middlesbrough Council review has revealed a system where overworked social workers are struggling to cope with huge workloads. Among the report's findings are: * Social workers are "burned-out" after two years because of high and complex case loads.

* Some social workers are dealing with cases of more than 40 children - well above the recommended 12. * Staff are working weekends and evenings just to keep on top of their workload.

* The council would need a further 51 social workers to meet national guidelines.

Now Middlesbrough Council is set to recruit 11 additional social workers at a cost of around pounds 350,000. But a report being considered by Middlesbrough Council's Executive says that if the recommendations of the Laming Inquiry - the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie - were strictly applied an additional 51 extra experienced social workers would be required to ensure staff had a manageable caseload.

The council currently employs 72 social workers. Neil Pocklington, the council's deputy director for safeguarding services, who wrote the report, said social workers in Middlesbrough were under tremendous pressure. "Because of the amount of bureaucracy they find they have no alternative but to work weekends and evenings. "Caseloads are increasing and becoming more complex. We are getting families from Eastern Europe which present extra complications in language, the use of interpreters and cultural differences. "We are working on cases where children may be placed back with grandparents in Eastern Europe," said Mr Pocklington, pictured. Mr Pocklington said a concerted effort was needed to develop early interventions to prevent children coming into the care system. The council needed more foster carers and more adopters - 40 children were currently available for adoption in Middlesbrough. "Our policy is to allocate all work so children are not being left unsafe and unprotected and we are confident we are offering the best service we can under the circumstances. There is confidence in what our services are doing but they are under pressure. We have a good core of experienced and committed staff," he said. The report adds social workers have caseloads that are "high and difficult to manage to ensure effective care planning for children. Children's plans cannot be swiftly executed leading to delay in moving cases forward". High caseloads "impact on ensuring an effective service for children, young people and their families", the report adds. "Social workers ares struggling to meet deadlines for court, child protection processes and looked-after planning.

"When they are able to meet deadlines this is due to working significant unpaid hours on an evening and weekend at home." He highlights the difficulty the council is experiencing in keeping social workers due to high workloads. "Social workers have left to go to other authorities where caseloads are protected and overtime is paid for cases worked above the allocated caseload level. "They have also been offered and paid incentives of pounds 5,000 if they join a neighbouring authority." Mr Pocklington says that care planning teams have difficulty in retaining experienced social workers. They become burned out by the two year point due to the high and complex caseloads," says Mr Pocklington. He says that there has been criticism in court about required timescales for assessments and planning for children not being met. Judges could impose "Wasted Costs Orders" on the council which could cost the council thousands of pounds per order. High case loads could also lead to children staying in foster care or residential placements longer than necessary - adding to costs. Children's charity the NSPCC said remain overstretched and under- supported. Andrew Flanagan, chief executive officer of the NSPCC, said: "The rise in care applications is adding to this pressure. A recent survey showed more than half know a colleague who has quit because of excessive workloads. More also needs to be done to learn frompast mistakes and ensure these errors are not repeated."
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Title Annotation:News; Front Page
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 9, 2012
Words:661
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