Social services to be given £58m overhaul

Around £58m will be spent in an effort to "transform" social services in the wake of the Baby P scandal, including a recruitment drive.

Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, outlined the Government's plans to improve services in response to Lord Laming's independent report, which accused local councils of failing to implement recommended reforms.

Mr Balls said he was committed to ensuring "greater openness", enabling the public to scrutinise child protection agencies better. The Government will also invest more in training and support for frontline services.

The reforms were aimed at "backing" the good work that is done in social work, said Mr Balls, and attracting good candidates to the profession.

Under the proposals:

* 200 university places will be created to enable graduates to convert to social work.

* A recruitment campaign will be launched to tempt back social workers who have left the profession.

* A newly-qualified social worker support programme will be launched for all new practitioners joining statutory and voluntary services this September.

* A new practice-based masters degree in social work will start in early 2011 so practitioners can continue to develop.

* A new advanced social work professional status programme will be launched to help experienced social workers stay on the front line.

Mr Balls also announced that Sir Roger Singleton, chief adviser on the safety of children, will report annually to Parliament and work with an expert group of senior children's professionals to advise the Government.

He also promised to overhaul the Integrated Children's System (ICS), the electronic case management system for children's social work. Mr Balls said his department was responding to calls for the ICS to be made "less clunky and bureaucratic".

The action plan was presented days after the stepfather of Baby P was convicted at the Old Bailey last week of raping a two-year-old girl. The girl, like Baby P, who can now be identified as Peter, was on Haringey Council's at-risk register.

The local authority's children's services department was strongly criticised for its role in the death of Peter, whose body was found in his blood-spattered cot with a broken back and fractured ribs. He suffered more than 50 injuries despite receiving 60 visits from social workers, doctors and police over an eight-month period.

Responding to the plans the Conservatives' children's spokesman Tim Loughton said: "Ministers cannot hope to entice more social workers back into the profession unless they fix the problems that originally drove them out.

"Social workers need to be back on the beat, not stuck in their seats – the Government has to take away the tick boxes and cut through the bureaucracy so the professionals can spend more time with children in need."

The Liberal Democrats' children and families spokeswoman Annette Brooke said that government ministers had "lost the plot".

"Today's measures are just a quick fix," she said. "There is not enough detail about the proposed new targets and, too often, government targets increase red tape and divert resources from the front line.

"We need a root-and-branch review of child protection, learning the lessons from the past and from good practice abroad."

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