Concerns over damaging impact of staff shortages on children’s social care

On 27 July 2022 Ofsted published a report entitled ‘Children’s social care 2022: recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic’ (“The Report”). The report investigates the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to children’s social care, using focus groups, inspections, and interviews with inspectors to aid the investigation. The report concluded that the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing staffing challenging in children’s social care which is severely impacting the amount of suitable children’s home places available.

What did The Report say?

The Report found that the COVID-19 pandemic and staff shortages has meant some children are living in environments where their needs are not being met, and in some cases are being placed in unregistered homes, without any regulatory oversight. This is cause for concern, alongside the high numbers of agency social workers and high level of caseloads which are preventing purposeful work with children and families. Additionally, pre-existing gaps in in-patient and community based provisions for children with mental health needs have grown, and the children’s needs have become more complex. This means that some children are not receiving the right care, or are placed too far from their families and communities. In some places, services for children and their families have not been fully reinstated or are running at a lower capacity than pre-pandemic levels. Ultimately, Ofsted is concerned that this could lead to delays in identifying vulnerable children and their needs, and families may have fewer opportunities to ask for help.

The Report also highlighted the limits of the working from home model for staff, particularly for peer support and for learning and development opportunities for social workers and other staff. It was reiterated that face-to-face interaction with colleagues is particularly important for newly qualified social workers, who have mainly operated in pandemic conditions and have so far had limited opportunities to interact and learn from other experienced colleagues. It was also warned that staff training which is conducted online is less engaging for staff and reduces retained learning.

In addition to these issues, there is ongoing concern in respect of the ongoing escalating cost of living crisis. This is because it is already having an impact on children’s services. Local authorities have warned that the greater financial strain on families may result in higher numbers of children in need and child protection cases. This would further compound the already established issues with levels of staffing and workforce issues in children’s care.

What has been said following The Report?

Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said:

“Children’s social care has been plagued by workforce challenges for some time. But we have seen these issues accelerate in recent years, with more social workers moving to agency contracts, and residential workers leaving the sector entirely. As a result, too many children, with increasingly complex needs, are not getting the help they need. A workforce strategy and improved support for disabled children and those with mental health needs, and their families are more urgent than ever.”

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