Councils have supported the latest instalment of Professor Eileen Munro’s report on reducing the burdens faced by frontline social workers, but underscored the financial pressures facing the sector.
Baroness Shireen Ritchie (Con), who chairs the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said authorities needed to be able to properly staff social work teams.
“Eileen Munro’s report makes very welcome recommendations but cuts to council budgets make the need for getting on with these reforms even more urgent,” she said.
“Initiatives to increase the number of social workers and raise the status of the profession are on track but action is needed now to make sure councils can keep the social workers they have and that they can spend as much time as possible working with the children who need them.”
Baroness Ritchie said LGA research backed up Prof Munro’s concerns about the amount of time social workers spent dealing with bureaucracy.
“Only 13% of a social worker’s time is spent with a family when making a first assessment – 87% is spent on paperwork and recording,” she said.
“While some paperwork is essential, children who are at risk and families which are struggling to cope will benefit much more from additional time spent with experienced social workers than they will from an increase in the number of forms filled in.”
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social work, said that while Prof Munro’s call for a “shift in focus” of management systems was welcome, the “basics” needed to be systematically policed.
She said questions such as “Do social workers have excessive caseloads?”; “Are they getting regular supervision?”; and “Are their working conditions safe?” needed to be answered.
She also echoed the LGA’s call for resources to be maintained.
“Some councils are cutting social worker posts,” she said.
“Others are axing vital early intervention and family support projects.
Ms Pile added that cuts to early-intervention programmes and family-support services would “pile up pressure” down the line.
“How ironic that as Professor Munro stresses the need for social workers to do less paperwork, many councils are making cuts of 25% or more to administrative staff who provide vital back-up so social workers can be out in the community,” she said.
Marion Davis, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said Prof Munro’s report was “comprehensive and consistent” in its description of the ideal child protection system and the steps required to move forward.
“There is clearly some more development work to be done on specific recommendations, but the direction of travel should be warmly welcomed by all those involved in child protection,” she said.
“Reforms to the workforce, including management and supervision, will require time, resource and strong leadership to implement.
“Directors of children’s services are committed to sustained sector-led improvement, building on the experiences of and innovations in local authorities and on lessons drawn from the reformed inspection and serious case review processes, as we all develop the systems required to support these important changes.”
Interim co-chair of the newly-established College of Social Work, Corrine May-Chahal, said Prof Munro’s interim report made some “excellent recommendations”.
“We are delighted with its emphasis on continuing professional development and on the importance of professional judgement as the best way to raise standards. The review rightly says that the current emphasis on rules and procedures can only alienate the workforce,” she said.