Rise in number of child protection cases in Enfield

Local safeguarding partnerships said to be enduring ‘new challenges and pressures’ since pandemic, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

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The number of people contacting a children’s safeguarding hub in Enfield has risen to its highest level in four years.

The children’s multi-agency safeguarding hub (Mash) – a partnership between the council, police, health and other services – received 22,788 contacts during 2021/22, up from 20,034 in the previous year. Police, schools and health services were the main referrers.

In addition, the number of child protection investigations increased to 2,289, up from 2,078 in 2020/21. The number of children subject to a child protection plan climbed from 254 to 333.

The figures were revealed in reports to a meeting of the children, young people and education scrutiny panel on Tuesday. The documents, which include an annual safeguarding report and a self-evaluation report, state that safeguarding partnerships “are meeting new challenges and pressures” following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under questioning from the committee, Anne Stoker, the council’s director of children and family services, said there had also been increases in children subject to special educational health and care plans (ECHPs) and children with disabilities.

She added: “There is an increase in children in need […] We don’t have an increase in looked-after children at this stage, which makes us think that we are doing the right things as early as we possibly can.”

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The committee reports also state that national children’s social worker shortages were felt in Enfield, with “challenges around staffing numbers” leading to “increased caseloads in some teams”. A decline in the number of children and family assessments completed within 45 days was “linked to vacant posts and Covid-related absence”.

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Anne told the committee there had been times when it was “really difficult” to get permanent social workers and “good-calibre agency staff if we do have a vacancy”, adding that there had been a “high turnover of agency staff”.

Explaining that the assessment time limit was improving, she said: “We have to actually get a good, strong, stable workforce. That is the answer to good practice and to good compliance.”

Anne told the committee that children’s services was “still struggling with Covid issues”, which was one of the reasons it had continued to see “such high numbers of referrals”.

The reports reveal that overseas recruitment, sabbaticals and retention payments are among the actions taken by the council to stabilise the workforce. They add that the costs of safeguarding adults and children services are increasing and this places “significant cost pressures on the council”.

Angela Bent, head of service for practice improvement and partnerships, told the committee the council had invested in apprenticeships to grow its own workforce. International social workers were being attracted to Enfield and were bringing “knowledge and experience” to the borough, she explained.

Angela added: “There has been a real plethora of different approaches to address workforce recruitment and retention, and we continue to do that in lots of different ways.”

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