Leading article: Social workers need support

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The Independent Online

The shocking death of Khyra Ishaq, who starved after months of abuse at the hands of her mother and stepfather, has drawn attention once again to the failings of child protection services. Publication this week of the full serious case review into Khyra's death has revealed for the first time the extent of the communications failures and missed opportunities that contributed to the death of seven-year-old Khyra.

The 180-page report is the first serious case review into the death of a child to be published in full following reforms introduced by the coalition Government. It makes grim reading, concluding that Khyra's death had been preventable and that some professionals had "lost sight" of their responsibilities to protect her. Instead, they focused on the rights of the girl's mother and her partner. It also blamed a severe lack of communication between her school, social workers and other agencies dating back to March 2006. They also found that social workers had not listened to school staff members' concerns about Khyra, and contact by two worried members of the public was not acted on.

The publication has coincided with an Ofsted survey showing that almost two-thirds of front-line social workers felt that they could not properly assess individual cases because of bureaucracy and high workloads. Many complained that the sheer level of paperwork and the amount of time recording information on computers got in the way. The Government has already commissioned a major review of the system to slash the red tape to allow them to spend more face-to-face time building relationships with vulnerable families.

Social work has always been a Cinderella service, underpaid, understaffed and under-resourced. Many of the families that social workers have to deal with are uncooperative at best and can often be threatening and intimidating. The surge in child protection cases following the death of baby Peter Connelly in 2007 has only put an overstretched service under even more pressure. And the public spending cuts threaten to make matters even worse.

Social workers need better training and more support if they are to have any chance of truly protecting the most vulnerable children. These youngsters need a high-quality service delivered by fully professional, highly trained and motivated staff. It is time to stop reforming the system and start supporting good social workers by ensuring that they have the support, training and respect they deserve.