Oxford

Oxfordshire social worker caseloads 'could put children at risk' after Bullfinch

County director of children's services Jim Leivers Image copyright Oxford Mail
Image caption County director of children's services Jim Leivers said his department had seen "rising demands on staff as workloads have increased"

Children in Oxfordshire could be put at risk because of rising caseloads of social workers dealing with vulnerable young people, it has been claimed.

In the wake of the Operation Bullfinch grooming case council bosses have raised concerns about the pressure on children's social care in the county.

Over the past five years the number of full-time county council social workers increased from 179 to 200.

But the number of children requiring protection plans rose from 263 to 572.

The figures were released after a Freedom of Information Request from BBC News Online.

Oxfordshire County Council said the situation was creating "huge pressures in teams", with some social workers dealing with up to 20 cases at a time.

'Better recognition'

Karen Goodman, from the British Association of Social Workers, said experienced staff were leaving the profession "in droves" because of job pressures.

Marilyn Hawes, who founded the charity Enough Abuse UK, said a lack of staff was creating a huge backlog of cases.

She said: "Some councils have an eight-month queue, and if you are deemed low risk you just sit there waiting."

Children who have a protection plan are considered to be at risk from neglect, physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

In its annual report, Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children's Board said one reason for the increase in cases was "better recognition" of child protection issues following recent high-profile grooming cases.

Image caption Chair of Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board Maggie Blyth defended the council's child protection system

The board's chair Maggie Blyth said there were "real pressures" on the system but overall it was working well in Oxfordshire.

She said: "It's [about] making sure the most vulnerable get the services that they need, and at the moment, certainly from my perspective, the system is still very safe."

County director of children's services Jim Leivers said the pressures on his department, which is currently rated good by Ofsted, were caused primarily by the "overwhelming need to reduce expenditure" because of government cuts.

He said if demand continued to rise the ability of the council and the agencies it worked with to keep vulnerable children safe could be "adversely affected".

A council spokesman added this could result in social workers spending less time with vulnerable children and families.

The council is currently consulting on proposals to create a new Family Support Service which would deal with child protection plans.

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