Balls vows 'step-change' in child protection

Wednesday 26 February 2014 05:53

The Government said today it would spend almost £60m to bring about a "step-change" in child protection in the wake of the death of Baby P.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls said a series of measures including better training, new recruitment campaigns and having members of the public sit on child protection boards would help address problems in the system.

However critics said the moves would not address the real issues social workers faced.

The changes follow a review by Lord Laming in the aftermath of the case of 17-month-old Baby Peter, who died at the hands of his mother, her partner and their lodger despite being on the "at risk" register of the London borough of Haringey.

Last year, 55 children were killed by parents or someone they knew while 200,000 children in England are believed to live in homes where there is a high risk of domestic abuse and violence.

After the Baby P case, council chiefs said one in 10 social worker posts was vacant and 5,000 front-line staff were required, while polls showed the public view of the job had plummeted.

Balls said £58m would be spent on a six-point plan to overhaul the profession.

This would involve sponsoring 200 university places to allow the "brightest" graduates to join conversion courses to become social workers.

A recruitment campaign will aim to bring back 500 former workers who have left the profession, while a new programme will aim to allow experienced staff to develop their careers whilst still working on the frontline.

There will also be greater public scrutiny of child protection, with two members of the public sitting on Local Safeguarding Children Boards and a requirement for an annual report on local progress.

"Our ambition is for social work to be a high-quality profession, with the confidence and support of the public, but to do this we must give social workers the training and support they need to develop," Balls said.

He said the plans amounted to a "step-change in child protection".

"No single measure can take away the suffering of children ... but we believe what Lord Laming is proposing can help improve child safety," he told reporters.

However critics said plans for new child protection targets could lead to more bureaucracy and hamper social workers.

"Ministers cannot hope to entice more social workers back into the profession unless they fix the problems that originally drove them out," said Conservative spokesman on children's affairs Tim Loughton.

"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."

Hilton Dawson, Chief Executive of British Association of Social Workers, was also unimpressed.

"I think these are small steps forwards but they cannot possibly be touted as the radical transformation of the social work profession that is actually required," he told BBC TV.

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