Social services stretched by workload

THE number of children being 'looked after' by Suffolk County Council has jumped by nearly 10pc in just 10 months - and the rise was yesterday blamed on the recession.

THE number of children being 'looked after' by Suffolk County Council has jumped by nearly 10pc in just 10 months - and the rise was yesterday blamed on the recession.

Frontline care services in the county are being stretched to the limit following a massive increase in the number of children being referred.

During 2009/10, a total of 7,484 children were referred to social services compared to 5,761 the previous year and 5,250 in 2007/8.

The number of 'looked after' children increased from 719 in May last year to 780 in March this year.

Suffolk councillor with responsibility for children and education Graham Newman told yesterday's meeting of the county cabinet that there were concerns about funding this increased demand.

He said: 'This increase, which is unsustainable, is largely the result of the recession and the pressure it places on some families.

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'We have to look at ways of helping without ending up costing too much. We have been dipping into our reserves and we don't have many reserves to dip into any more.'

He told the cabinet that the county council would need to radically review the way in which referrals of children in need are managed and responded too.

The report reveals that in the past year there has been a 62pc increase in the number of children being subject to care proceedings - up from 122 in 2008/9 to 198.

Mr Newman added: 'A 10pc increase in looked-after children in the last 10 months is totally unsustainable. What is even more worrying is that a large number of those children are adolescents with serious issues to get round from households where things have reached breaking point.'

The statistics suggest that the major problem facing children where social services become involved is neglect by parents or guardians during the recession.

The number of children getting child protection plans because of neglect increased by 10pc, while the numbers getting plans for emotional abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse remained constant or even fell.

However the number of children suffering physical or sexual abuse is very low in comparison with neglect or emotional abuse (which usually involves witnessing another family member being attacked within the home).

The council has invested resources into preventative work and is working closely with the health authority, the police and other services who frequently pass on reports to social services. Some of these cases can result in further action being taken by frontline workers.

Mr Newman added: 'In Suffolk, our policy is not to have a lot of inducement but to offer new social care staff very good on-the-job training.

'We are making headway but it is hard to get the right people to come and stay.'

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