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Short-staffed council's social services recruitment 'slow'

Wakefield Council has been told it needs more social workers to help turn children's services around.
Wakefield Council has been told it needs more social workers to help turn children's services around.

The recruitment of new social workers needed to turn Wakefield's failing children's services around continues to be "slow", the head of the department has said.

Beate Wagner, corporate director for children's services, said that a national shortage of staff was partly to blame for the problem, but insisted the council would only hire "the right people" for the job.

Beate Wagner, corporate director of children's services

Beate Wagner, corporate director of children's services

The local authority is pumping £4.5million into children's services after it was deemed to be inadequate by Ofsted in July.

Although Ms Wagner said that most leadership vacancies within the service had been filled, more frontline staff are still needed.

Speaking at a children and young people scrutiny meeting on Wednesday, she said: "In terms of social worker recruitment, it's ongoing but slow.

"We're no different to other local authorities in that it's very difficult to recruit experienced social workers.

"But just to assure people, we're absolutely wanting to recruit the right people.

"There is a national shortage in the profession. Many people are falling out of it because of the relentless and very stressful nature of the job.

"Even in a supportive environment there's a lot to do."

In a wide-ranging verbal update about the recent performance of children's services, Ms Wagner said she was satisfied with the amount of overall progress being made since the Ofsted report's publication.

Following criticism from the regulator that staff were overworked, Ms Wagner said that the average number of caseloads per worker had been cut from above 30 to 25.

However, the number of children being referred to the service for help is rising, she told the committee.

It has also been revealed that several staff contacted Ofsted directly to raise concerns about the competence of the service before inspectors visited Wakefield.

However, Ms Wagner did not know if any of them had tried to alert senior figures at the council beforehand.

She said: "We do know that a number of our staff used the whistleblowing process with Ofsted, prior to the inspection.

"We prefer a chance to get it right ourselves first, but at the end of the day it's better to be a whistleblower than to be quiet.

"If that was felt by staff to be best way to make themselves heard, then so be it."

A government commissioner is currently observing children's services and will publish his recommendations next month.

If he concludes that the council is unfit to run the service, the government could take control of it themselves or instruct that it be privatised.