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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

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Bosses told social workers to ‘cut corners’

SOCIAL workers looking after some of the area’s most vulnerable children were told by bosses to produce sub-standard work to meet deadlines.

By Julie Morgan

A lack of staff to deal with the youngsters, involved in fostering and adoption placements, resulted in a paperwork backlog.

Senior management at Cumbria County Council's Looked After team – tasked to care for children who live away from parents/families – agreed to “a temporary reprieve of standards’’ until staff caught up on work.

Documentation obtained exclusively by The Whitehaven News states that management were “aware of the limitations” of the current childcare services as well as “on-going issues with the quality and timeliness of the info recorded”.

In a memo to social workers, they were told: “Due to the history of the team we have given agreement for a temporary reprieve of standards until the back log is caught up.”

An Ofsted report last year said arrangements to protect children in Cumbria from harm were “inadequate’’. At the time, the county council, which runs children’s services, accepted the findings but insists it has made immediate changes to rectify the most serious concerns.

However in March, social workers were told by bosses to ensure the information was up-to-date, and that a “fresh start’’ was needed to “improve the quality of the data’’.

A former agency worker, who did not want to be named, said: “Staff were told to get all of their paperwork up-to-date regardless of the quality. They were literally ordered by senior management to do sub-standard work because it is quicker. “Bearing in mind, this paperwork is court-related, placement reports on the suitability of a particular placements, reports for adoption or fostering proceedings, important documents which will affect a child’s life for the next five to 15 years.’’

The worker said one of the problems is that the Copeland Looked After team, which deals with local youngsters, was “largely staffed” with agency workers.

Agency workers were “willing” to produce poor reports, the worker claimed. “They are not invested in the organisation, nor the child,” he said. “They are less likely to commit or care for a child, if they won’t be around after a few months.

“Agency workers often leave abruptly, sometimes just not coming in the next day. As a result, children are often left unallocated, having no worker to help them, for several weeks.”

A Cumbria County Council spokesperson said: “We expect the same standards from agency staff as from our permanent social workers. All agency staff go through an interview process and are required to provide references. On occasions where agency social workers have fallen short of the required standard we have had to ask them to leave.

“The vast majority of agency staff however, are highly competent social workers who do a very good job in covering the vacancies we’re in the process of filling. Recruiting permanent social workers to west Cumbria has proved difficult so we’ve offered starter bonuses to help recruit the right, experienced people for the positions and the county council has allocated funding to recruit additional new Children’s Services social workers on top of the 17 already recruited from out of county and the 16 promoted internally into enhanced social work posts. In addition, six members of staff are undertaking social worker training to enable the council to respond proactively to the challenges of recruiting social workers.”

Have your say

It is not unsual for a team to have such a high turnover of staff (permanent or agency) and therefore questions do need to ask why staff leave, whereas in other teams around the world workers often stay for years. Questions such as 'are management bullies'? 'are they addressing social care safeguarding concerns?', 'are the agency managers any good? or just good at 'talking the talk'' 'are caseloads years out of date'?...questions such as these given the high turnover of staff, would provide sufficient answers as it is not normal for staff to leave places in the manner that has been suggested. It is relatively common for agency staff to stay places with good teams for up to 2 years.
The children and families around the team deserve to be treated according to the social care guidance and in a safe practice and if this is not happening then this needs to be done.

Posted by A.V. Concerned on 13 July 2014 at 10:45

While it may be true that 'social workers are told to cut corners', it is unfair to blame agency workers who are introduced to a huge backlog of work and expected to produce instant results in clearing backlog and dealing with current cases while working with an understaffed team. Perhaps a pertinent questions are, "how did the existing team get to the situation they are now in?" and "why are agency workers leaving" perhaps when these questions are satisfactorily resolved and new or amended processes implemented the system will move forward and ultimately every child will get the level of care they need.

Posted by A. Concerned on 3 July 2014 at 10:26

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