Children in danger as protection failings 'not addressed'
VULNERABLE children who are in danger in their own homes are not being taken away from their parents because there are not enough places in care for them, union leaders claimed today.
The warning comes in part of a report two years after serious failings in Edinburgh's child protection system were highlighted by an inquiry headed by Susan O'Brien, QC, following the death of 11-week-old Caleb Ness, who was killed by his father.
Today's report from trade union Unison has found that a string of recommendations to address failings have yet to be met.
The O'Brien findings cited serious failings at all levels of child protection services across the Capital, but Unison has found that five of the 20 recommendations made by O'Brien which affect council staff have not been fully implemented.
A total of 14 social workers are needed to deal with the huge workload of child protection cases, computer systems are inadequate, health and education staff are failing to attend key meetings about vulnerable children and not enough money is being pumped into social work, according to today's report.
But its most serious claim is that because of a shortage of places in care homes, some children are having to stay at home even though social workers have identified them as being at risk.
The union claims funding for more residential places is not being made available to the council by the Scottish Executive.
Unison branch secretary John Stevenson said: "I don't think it's putting any child at risk of death but it's not as safe as if the child was in care. One of the major frustrations for any social worker is to want to remove a child from harm, but to have nowhere for the child to go."
The new report also says staff shortages mean social workers are having to prioritise workloads.
Unison believes an extra 14 staff are needed to cope, despite the council saying it has filled all its vacancies.
Following the O'Brien inquiry, which made 35 recommendations, 11 social work assistants were employed to deal with admin and free up social workers' time.
But the union is concerned that the council does not appear to have budgeted for the additional staff needed. Today's report also claims that communication difficulties between social workers and GPs- a key criticism raised by the O'Brien Inquiry - have not been addressed.
The union also looked at the findings of an audit of child protection carried out by a social work consultant a year after the O'Brien report. It recommended measures be brought in to ensure social workers, police and health authorities worked more closely together.
But the Unison report has said this had still not been done and the passing of information is still reliant solely on the dedication of staff. Although meetings to discuss a child's case were well attended by health and education officials following the inquiry, their attendance is now tailing off, today's report claims.
The union also found that social workers are having to queue to use computers.
Mr Stevenson added: "A lot of work has been done and we acknowledge that. Most social workers would say things have improved a great deal and we now need to work together to deal with the problems they still face."
Caleb's brain-damaged father was jailed for 11 years after he admitted shaking the boy to death in a Leith flat in 2001.
Caleb's mother, Shirley Malcolm, was taking a methadone prescription to a chemist's when the attack occurred. The baby also spent the first month of his life in a hospital intensive care unit recovering from an addiction to the drug acquired in the womb.
Council leader Donald Anderson said the council had provided an additional 5 million for social work services in last year's budget and 1m was earmarked to implement the O'Brien recommendations.
He said: "A further 474,000 has been provided for this financial year and 220,000 in next year's budget - funding that will enable us to increase staffing and reduce caseloads further.
"Unison agree with us that the issue of placements for children is a Scotland-wide issue."
Cathryn Orr, NHS Lothian's Child Health Commissioner, denied that staff attendance at case conferences was in decline.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 5 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west