Fully implementing just one of Lord Laming’s 58 recommendations for improving child protection could cost councils £250m a year and require 6,300 more social workers, according to new research.
The first findings of a Loughborough University study into the practicalities of Lord Laming’s post-Baby Peter review of child protection in England questioned the value of demanding a full initial assessment on all children referred to social workers by fellow professional such as NHS staff and the police.
It said the move could mean a worst-case-scenario 300% increase in workload for some social work teams, and that frontline staff considered that some of those reports would be “unnecessary” while the quality of others would be compromised.
The initial analysis of the research, commissioned by the Local Government Association, said that many of Lord Laming’s recommendations – published almost one year ago – were already standard practice at councils across the country.
But the LGA said that with initial assessments taking an average of 10.5 hours to complete, complying with Lord Laming’s assessment recommendation was “not practically possible at current staffing levels”.
Shireen Ritchie (Con), chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said it would be irresponsible to pretend that there would not be financial implications for the recommendations and implications for staff tasked with carrying them out.
“That is why the LGA is dedicated to investigating the implications of child protection reforms,” she said.
“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.”
Earlier this year, an LGC survey of directors of children’s services found referrals of children believed to be at risk had increased some 28% between 2007-8 and 2008-9, with many reporting even sharper rises in the current year.
Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Kim Bromley-Derry said the Loughborough research indicated that prescribing an initial assessment for all referrals would divert resources away from the most vulnerable children.
“We know that public funds will be limited and asking for significant extra resources to meet the total costs implied by this research is unlikely to be successful,” he said.
“Though we do think that vulnerable children should be a priority for any incoming government’s first budget.
“Some authorities are already predicting deficits for next year due to rising numbers of children requiring services and we are working on presenting a detailed national picture to government as soon as possible to ensure that these needs are met.”
He said that fulfilling the assessment recommendation risked “pulling staff away from the crucial early intervention work” that could reduce the need for crisis services in the first place.
The Loughborough research is due to be passed on to the Department for Children, Schools and Families for consideration in its response to December’s Social Work Task Force recommendations.
Among researchers’ other findings were that average child-protection social workers had 14 cases each, and that average child-in-need social workers had 22 cases each.