Soaring numbers of children are being referred to social services because of abuse and neglect, with two million brought to the attention of councils in the last year.
Newly released figures indicate local authorities were inundated by concerns about children in the last financial year, with an 11 per cent increase in all new referrals.
The president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), Alan Wood, blamed the rise on poverty brought about in part by the difficulties families have faced under welfare reform.
Speaking at The National Children and Adult Services conference in Manchester yesterday, he said: “Abuse or neglect continue to be the most prevalent reason for referrals and in that we are conscious of the impact of poverty.”
He added: “We can see that families daily are facing new and additional challenges and changes to the way in which they receive money and the way in which they can spend money. The additional pressures on families from poverty must and will be linked to the increasing referrals to children’s social care.”
Commenting on the rise in initial contacts – the first information a local authority receives when a concern is reported about a child – Mr Wood said: “There’s been an 11 per cent increase year-on-year, bringing to local authorities’ attention the details of around two million children. That’s what I call a busy system.”
Mr Wood also said that the quality of social workers coming out of university was “not good enough” and called on local authorities to come up with a new training programme to put more emphasis on practical experience.
However, he said the number of children taken into care was up 5 per cent in the last year, with 30,000 admitted in 12 months, and warned against the “mandatory reporting of child protection issues” that would leave the system “overwhelmed”.
He also pointed to a 13.8 per cent increase in the number of children subject to a child-neglect programme, quoting figures from a report due to be published next month.
Making implicit criticism of Frontline, the programme to attract top graduates into social work that has been lauded by the government and is similar to Teach First education training, Mr Wood proposed that local authorities set up their own training alternative.
“I’d like to see half a dozen local authorities with a leading top quality university coming together and putting in a bid to the innovation fund for a new model for social-work training, one that focuses on practice supported by theory and not theory supplemented with practice,” he said.
The chair of the Local Government Association, Councillor David Sparks, told the conference an urgent review was needed of the “skills crisis” facing the profession.
He said: “As social workers are vilified, good social workers leave the profession; standards fall and the problem gets worse. Last year seven out of ten councils reported issues around recruiting or keeping their social workers. That’s far too high.”
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Our reforms are improving the lives of some of the poorest families and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.
“The number of children living in households where no one works is now at the lowest level for a generation, down 387,000 under this Government, and there are now 271,000 fewer workless households than there were this time last year – the largest annual fall on record.”