Social work concerns

PUBLISHED: 11:42 01 November 2007 | UPDATED: 13:01 04 May 2010

UNQUALIFIED social workers have been handling complex tasks involving children across the county because of a chronic shortage of professionals. Government inspectors discovered there were 47 vacancies for qualified social workers across the county - 11 p

UNQUALIFIED social workers have been handling complex tasks involving children across the county because of a chronic shortage of professionals.

Government inspectors discovered there were 47 vacancies for qualified social workers across the county - 11 per cent less than the required level.

They highlighted their fears, including the way the work of unqualified staff was routinely overseen and monitored by managers, after spending three weeks scrutinising the county's children and young people's services.

Increased case referral rates added to the pressures facing the service run by Cambridgeshire County Council, the Joint Area Review report, carried out in January, found.

The inspectors, drawn from Ofsted, the Commission for Social Care, the Healthcare Commission, the Adult Learning Inspectorate and the Audit Commission recommended that the council review its risk assessment procedures for using unqualified social workers.

There are still 38 vacancies for qualified social workers but that figure could be reduced to 14 if new recruits recently appointed take up their posts by the end of the year.

"There are concerns about the complexity of some work carried out by unqualified staff and how this work is routinely overseen and monitored by managers," said the report.

It added that the cost of recruiting agency staff to make up the shortfall was high at more than £480,000.

But Charlotte Black, Cambridgeshire County Council's area director of children and young people's services who is leading the recruitment and retention of social workers, said the timing of the report was "unfortunate".

She said: "The report was a helpful reminder at a time when our vacancy rate for qualified social workers was higher than it is now.

"We have a very strict system where unqualified social workers have formal and informal supervision and they co-work alongside experienced staff. Some of them want to become social workers and they have a role to play. Our view is that our current arrangements are pretty good."

She added that new qualified social workers had been recruited recently and if everything goes to plan the council would be staffed to full capacity in January.

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