More than 2800 welfare concerns logged about Northamptonshire children last month

Northamptonshire county council currently has 1119 children in care.
Northamptonshire county council currently has 1119 children in care.

Northamptonshire children’s safeguarding hub had 2,804 contacts from people concerned about the welfare of children last month (March).

The figure was revealed at the council’s overview and scrutiny committee by the council’s new assistant director of safeguarding Jean Imray in response to questions about how many different cases the under-pressure service is dealing with.

The assistant director said: “In March 2,804 contacts were received in the month. All are screened, for some of those there will be no further action. Some will be redirected to targeted services. Some are dealt with in the moment. Some after screening need a little bit more work and will convert to a referral.

“A total of 526 of those converted to a referral. The majority were dealt with 24 hours.”

First contacts are made to the multi-agency safeguarding hub and can be made by anyone worried about a child’s welfare. The hub was criticised by Ofsted as it found it had not enough staffing capacity and left some children unassessed for too long.

A report to councillors at yesterday’s (April 24) meeting said that changes have been made in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) after a full review and that job roles have been redefined and a new manual for staff produced.

After a question by Labour’s Cllr Jane Birch about how many children were in the system Ms Imray said the council currently had 4,113 children classified as ‘children in need’ and 662 children with a child protection plan.

The 1989 Children’s Act defines a child in need as a child whose health and development is likely to be significantly impaired or further impaired without the provision of services. A child is put under a protection plan when there is evidence that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.

The authority also has 1,119 children in care which means the council’s children’s services has 5,894 children currently in its system.

Ms Imray joined the council in January. She was involved in an independent review into the child sexual exploitation cases in Rotherham and has also worked at a senior level at Norfolk, Thurrock and Bournemouth councils.

At the meeting Ms Imray told councillors that she welcomed robust scrutiny because it ‘makes the system safer’. She told them to ’keep asking questions’.

The meeting heard that the council currently has 281 social workers looking after all cases and has 69 vacancies. Just under a third of current staff are agency staff. A website set up to recruit new social workers has not led to many applications to the vacant posts.

A number of social workers left the authority in recent years because they felt that working conditions were unsafe due to workload levels.

Ms Imray said the authority was in need of experienced rather than newly qualified staff.

There are currently 127 unallocated cases, where a child does not have a social worker. Ms Imray said the authority could only allocate these cases when there was sufficient staff to take on the work.