Under-pressure Birmingham social workers are struggling to cope with a record 27,000 cases of alleged child abuse.
That’s the number of referrals social services expects to be asked to deal with in 2009-10 – more than half as many again as in the previous year.
Although the figures include some of the same children being reported more than once, city council officials admit the growing volume of work is taking a considerable toll on staff.
A fifth of social worker posts are vacant in children’s social services department, which has been criticised for failing to prevent the death of Khyra Ishaq.
And of the social workers on the council’s books, only 39 per cent are qualified to deal with the most serious cases of children thought to be at risk of being harmed.
Reports from the public about suspected child abuse have been rising steadily since the 2007 Baby Peter case – a 17-month old boy who died in London after suffering more than 50 injuries over an eight-month period despite being repeatedly seen by social services.
After the death of seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, starved by her mother and stepfather despite attempts by social workers to investigate, Birmingham City Council and the police said it was vital that anyone suspecting child abuse should report the matter.
A year ago, Birmingham social services was placed under a government improvement order after standards of care for children at risk were found to be inadequate.
The council is meeting most of the targets set down by Ministers and the order is expected to be lifted shortly.
Christine Lynch, assistant children’s services director at the council, said: “There is no question that the rate of referrals we are having to deal with is increasing.
“The case load for individual social workers is of concern.”
Mrs Lynch added that attempts to recruit more social workers were beginning to bear fruit, with 60 trainees joining the council recently.
However, vacancies in Birmingham remain far higher than other UK cities of a similar size.