Social workers in West Sussex are still dealing with much heavier caseloads than expected, despite improvements to the system.
At a County Hall meeting, in Chichester, councillors were told that, on average, social workers were expected to deal with around 15 cases at a time.
In December, though, 21 had more than 25 cases on their hands, 40 had more than 20, 12 had more than 17, and 1 had more than 30.
Andrew Fraser, interim director of children and family services, said: “The caseloads have been high and we need to do a lot of work to get them down. The quality of our social work depends on social workers having managable caseloads.”
It is a situation reflected all over the country, and figures from August – which included one social worker balancing a workload of more than 40 cases – showed that, in West Sussex at least, progress was being made.
A major issue faced by the council has been the recruitment of social workers – and then persuading them to stay in the job.
A multi-million pound recruitment scheme to find 37 new staff saw a steep rise in applications and resulted in 23 people being offered jobs between September and November.
In addition, more than 200 staff have committed themselves to West Sussex for the next five years in return for an extra £3k per year in their pay packets.
Members of the children and young people’s services select committee were pleased to see how much work was being done but asked for assurances about the state of the services being provided.
Anne Jones (Con, Burgess Hill East) stressed the need for a solid all-round service.
She said: “You may have a good social worker but if we haven’t got good support services to bring in for families then the social worker is on a hiding to nothing.”
When asked by chairman Michael Cloake (Con, Worthing Pier) if he was confident work was being carried out as needed and the service was operating safely, Mr Fraser said improvements were ‘a journey’.
He added: “There’s nothing so far to suggest that children aren’t as safe as they can be given the circumstances.”
Acknowledging that those circumstances were not ideal, he said: “What we want is a safe service that provides absolute safety for our children and young people – and in order to do that it has to be a safe place for social workers.
“They need the tools for the job, the right level of support, the right level of training and supervision.
“We need to make sure that is in place. We’re on the way.”