SOCIAL workers fear the number of vulnerable children subjected to neglect and abuse could rocket as a result of welfare reforms.
New figures show that the number of youngsters most at risk in town has already increased by more than a quarter this year.
Hartlepool Borough Council officers fear the figure could rise further as a result of welfare reforms, with increasing pressure on staff already experiencing rising workloads.
Welfare reforms include the “bedroom tax,” which will see people’s housing benefit cut if they are under-occupying their homes and cuts to council tax benefit.
Officers fear added financial pressures on families could result in more children accessing services.
The latest safeguarding figures, revealing an increase in referrals and re-referrals, were presented to independent councillor Cath Hill, l Turn to Page 5
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portfolio holder for children’s and community services.
Coun Hill said: “As always we are aware of the increasing demand and that will increase further with the welfare reforms.
“We are aware of how this will affect our social work staff because it affects everybody that works with children and young people.
“It is important we are aware and maybe we will have to spend more money because we can’t leave social workers overloaded and children unhelped.”
Coun Hill also said she recognised the excellent work that is done in schools around safeguarding children.
The service currently employs 44 qualified social workers and adverts have been placed for two news posts.
Wendy Rudd, head of safeguarding, assessment and support unit at the council, said: “The demand for services continues to increase and as a consequence social worker’s caseloads have risen.
“Notwithstanding this does fluctuate between workers dependent upon their experience and the complexity of the issues within the case.
“Despite increasing case loads we continue to strive to maintain the protection of the newly qualified social worker case load and ensure that this support is accompanied by an appropriate level of management oversight.”
She added: “We have seen an increase in the number of children receiving services.
“Further it is anticipated that the pending welfare reforms together with the changes to the family justice system, in respect of the withdrawal of public funding in private law matters, will result in an even greater demand for services. “It is essential that within Hartlepool we are able to appropriately respond to the increasing demand for services and also ensure that practice remains safe.”
At the portfolio meeting, Coun Hill asked senior staff about the training on offer to social workers.
Sally Robinson, the council’s assistant director of prevention, safeguarding and specialist services, said there is a “robust and rigorous” training programme in place.
Coun Hill said the recent Peer Review had raised concerns that there wasn’t much focus on what impact the welfare reforms will have on this service area.
But Coun Hill said: “It is mentioned at almost every cabinet meeting in one way or another.
“I thought that was an unfair comment.
“I accept criticism if it is deserved but not if it isn’t.”
THE latest safeguarding children figures, for the period July to September, have been revealed.
• Protection plan:
The total number of children who became subject to a protection plan throughout the second quarter of 2012 was 34, compared with 25 in the first quarter.
At the end of September, there was 101 children subject to a protection plan, with neglect being the highest category accounting for 82 children.
The risk of physical abuse accounted for 11, emotional abuse for seven children and the remaining child was subject to a plan due to risk of sexual abuse.
A protection plan ensures that children see doctors regularly, get to school okay and have someone to talk to.
• Looked after:
There were 188 looked after children within Hartlepool at the end of September compared to 192 in the same quarter last year.
The council has an Edge of Care Team, which launched in June, and officers say it is currently working “very well” with a small number of young people at risk of coming into care by producing an intensive package of support.
Of the children looked after, 166 are placed in foster care, with the rest in residential care or school, placed with parents or another person with parental responsibility, placed for adoption or living independently.
• Children in need:
The service is working with 960 children, compared with 924 in September 2011, demonstrating a “clear increase”.
During the second quarter a total of 1,326 contacts were received into the department and 363 progressed to referral, compared with 265 in the first quarter.
Officers have described that as a “significant increase”, meanwhile re-referrals rocketed from 54 to 94.
During the second quarter there were no unallocated cases and once a referral is received it is always allocated within 48 hours.