Thousands of children need a social worker

Coun Olivia Rowley.
Coun Olivia Rowley.

Vulnerable children are being referred to social services because families are missing out on vital support, council bosses have admitted.

Wakefield Council hopes to reduce the number of youngsters who need a social worker with a shake-up of services, which could include the controversial closure of some children’s centres.

Families protested after plans emerged to reduce the number of children’s centres around the district.

But council bosses say the current system is not the best way to help vulnerable families who were the least likely to use the centres.

Up to 500 youngsters are being referred to social services a week. In 2013–14 there were 9,481 referrals.

Latest figures from September 12 also show that 517 children in the district were in care.

Carly Speechley, service director for the council’s children and young people’s service, said: “That’s an awful lot of children needing a social worker to get through their childhood, and that can’t be right.”

Referrals to social services had been rising as families struggle with rising unemployment and poverty.

Olivia Rowley, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “For many people in Wakefield, the economy is not improving and when that causes a crisis, they turn to us.”

But the council hopes to intervene earlier to make sure families got help before children ended up in the care of social services.

A pilot scheme in the south east of the district, which has so far worked with 170 families, was helping to reduce referrals.

Coun Rowley said: “What the pilot scheme highlighted was the need to work with the whole family to do more preventative work, bringing together a number of different agencies.”

Under the proposals for children’s centres, the district’s 23 centres would be centralised into six main sites and three “linked sites”, offering additional support in areas of high deprivation.

The remaining buildings could be transferred to local primary schools, leading to fears that some communities would lose their centre.

But Coun Rowley said schools could provide more places for primary school children by using the centres to provide more classroom space.

Public consultations about the proposals take place at 6pm at St Michael’s Academy on September 30, Havercroft and Ryhill Sports Centre on September 24 and Newlands Primary School on October 2.