Channel 4 News has seen exclusive research which shows local authorities are failing to comply with guidelines for protecting at-risk children. Katie Razzall reports.
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After the Baby Peter tragedy, Lord Laming, a former social worker, was asked by the government to look at how children can be protected. His 58 recommendations aimed to bring in a "stepchange" in the way children can be kept out of harm.
The government backed all his recommendations - but on the first anniversary of Lord Laming's work, the "vast majority" of councils are not complying with his demands.
Channel 4 News spoke to one head of children's services who described them as "not helpful", "hugely expensive", "poorly drafted" with "no evidence they will do children any good". Another called one particular Lord Laming recommendation "wrong".
And Councillor Shireen Ritchie, chair of the Children and Young People Board at the Local Government Association said: "I think recommendations are really important, they show us the way, they give us direction. But in the end, councils are on the frontline and they have to deliver them. And what is written on a piece of paper doesn't necessarily always translate easily to the frontline".
Lord Laming told Channel 4 News: "Because I believe this is a cornerstone of inter-agency work, to identify those children who may be at risk of neglect or deliberate harm… I would be deeply concerned if authorities weren't carrying out what I regard as such a basic response, when another agency has sufficient concern as to refer a child to social care services.
"These are not done trivial, these are not done without good cause. I have never heard anyone claim that the social care services are having children referred to them without good cause."
This row surrounds, in part, the recommendation that every time the police, or a GP, for example, refers a child to social services, a social worker must carry out an "initial assessment". This, say councils, is a lengthy piece of work which is not always appropriate or necessary to assess the risk to a child.
Research commissioned by the LGA from Loughborough University says that to comply with this, local authorities would have to recruit up 6,330 social workers at a cost of up to £250m because workloads could go up 300 per cent. Frontline workers were "emphatic" that it wasn't possible for them to carry out all these extra assessments without more staff.
Children's services are under intense strain. Channel 4 News has been shown new evidence that the number of places needed for at risk children has gone up dramatically. This is in part a reaction to the death of Baby Peter, and a desire to prevent another child dying unnecessarily.
We have seen figures from the Adolescent and Children's Trust which show the number of requests for a place with a foster carer employed by this one charity alone has more than doubled in the last year, up from 3,776 requests between April and December 2008 to 7,981 in the same period the following year. That is an increase of 114 per cent.
There is a shortage of foster carers. Three-quarters of the UK's 74,000 looked after children live with foster families. But with the number of children coming into care rising, it is becoming harder for social workers to find beds for them with foster carers.
We spoke to one foster carer in Essex, Rosemary Hall. She said in the three years since she has been fostering, there has been a big rise in calls from social workers asking for a bed for a child. She said "when we first started, it was only two to three calls a week. This time I've had nine calls, it's been really busy".
Even more problematic, perhaps, is the shortage of social workers; the government is involved in a recruitment drive at the moment. But as one head of children's services told Channel 4 News, although that is welcome and necessary, those recruited will be useful to us "in 10 years' time. We need them now".
Nushra Mansuri, from the British Association of Social Workers, said "On the ground, the harsh reality is, most social workers up and down the country, their caseloads have increased because of a sharp increase in referrals. I wonder how local authorities can cope with this because I see it as untenable."
She is concerned that "quality is going to be compromised" for vulnerable children as a result.