Council left children at risk in danger

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The Independent Online
Nearly one in five children at risk of abuse were left without a social worker, according to a review of Sheffield social services. The Audit Commission has ordered it to clean up its act. Glenda Cooper, Social Affairs Correspondent, examines its findings.

Children and older people were left exposed to "unacceptable risk" because the authority was failing to carry out its statutory duties, a joint review by the Audit Commission and Social Services Inspectorate says today.

Sheffield, the third-largest metropolitan district in England, has been given six months to implement "major and urgent action" to deal with the failings and shortcomings or leaders will be summoned by the health minister, Paul Boateng, to explain themselves.

The review found that of 535 children on the at-risk register, 93 were without an allocated social worker and more than half had reviews overdue.

"If you make a referral [about a child], nothing will be done," said a statutory agency. "You have to push and push to get any response - you really have to chase them."

The report said: "It is unacceptable for any child on the child-protection register to be without an allocated social worker. It is difficult to understand how the authority allowed this situation to persist, given the nature of its responsibilities towards such children."

More than 2,500 vulnerable adults and elderly people were waiting for assessments and others, having been assessed, were waiting for services. This included 80 stuck in hospital and taking up beds because their assessments had not been done.

Sheffield, more than other authorities surveyed, relies on residential care for the elderly, mainly provided by council homes. But the reviewers found three-quarters of residential homes had not been inspected by the council. Users of social services were much less likely to rate the help they received as good than in other authorities and 15 per cent rated it as poor or very poor.

The main difficulty the team found was that the authority lacked an overall strategy for responding to its difficult financial situation. Managers were often unable to get hold of information which would help them make necessary changes.

The council should also calculate how much every service provided costs, whether they are of good quality and whether they are effective.

Sheffield City Council said it was taking "immediate action" to address the criticism of social services and would be launching a three- year plan to improve services across the board.