Safety of women and children is priority for concerned social workers
By Bill Heaney
Suffer the little children – and they do suffer here in West Dunbartonshire.
This is mainly because we live in a wife and partner-beating community where domestic violence is the worst in Scotland and drink and drugs abuse is rife.
Jackie Irvine, pictured left, the council’s chief social worker, said that as a result there has been considerable overspend in the budgets associated with caring for children away from home.
And a rising number of “kinship placements” which means children from broken homes being taken in by their grannies or aunties.
The wife beaters who are prosecuted but not sent to jail are subject to a significant number of Community Payback Orders handed down in Dumbarton Sheriff Court.
Jackie Irvine says in her annual report that this has to be understood in terms of the level of deprivation and poverty experienced in West Dunbartonshire.
She added: “However with a stretched budget position in 2016/17, our performance in respect of Unpaid Work Placements issued as a condition of CPOs has been particularly poor.
“To mitigate against this and turn performance around we have completed a re-design of the service to ensure efficient and effective case allocation.
“We are now in a position to advertise for additional staff given that we received a slight increase in our grant from the Scottish Government.
“Our new Criminal Justice Service Manager has implemented a revised allocation policy and overviews performance against demand on a weekly basis.
“And we have established regular meetings with the local Sheriffs to advise of actions taken and seek their views and feedback about improvements we have made and the impact they are experiencing.
“I am pleased to report therefore that there has been significant progress in respect of our performance since the beginning of this year.”
Ms Irvine maintained: “The rationale driving the national strategy for community justice is that the issues underpinning offending are complex, beyond the power of any single agency to resolve and may have aspects which have particular importance in certain localities, for instance the persistently high levels of reported domestic violence in West Dunbartonshire.”
Child Poverty remains persistently high with the latest figures showing that 26% of children in West Dunbartonshire are affected by it.
Work is ongoing to implement to Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 to give all local children the best start in life.
The Universal Credit full service is scheduled to be rolled out in next month and will impact on child poverty.
West Dunbartonshire is projected to have the highest reduction in welfare spending per individual adult by 2020/21 of all Scottish Local authorities.
Within social care the cost of community and residential placements for children and young people exceeded the budget by £1.80m.
Of this total the cost of kinship and fostering placements accounted for £0.709m, due to an unprecedented increase in numbers.
The number of kinship placements increased by 43 and the number of fostering placements 17.
Due to difficulties across Scotland in attracting foster carers to sign with local authorities the majority of these new places had to be arranged with external fostering agencies at a higher cost.
Children placed within residential schools due to emotional, behavioural or physical disabilities exceeded the budget by £0.736m.
Ms Irvine said: “This is an extremely volatile budget and secure placements can cost in excess of £0.200m per child. Childcare managers review these packages on a weekly basis for alternative, appropriate community based support.”
Across the past three years there has been a noticeable rise in the number of child concern and protection referrals coming into the children and families social work service of the HSCP.
Referrals received by the children and families service in the last two years have risen from 330 in 2016/17 to 423 in 2017/18.
This represents an increase of 28%.
“While this shows a continual increase this is considerably lower than the increase experienced in 2016/17 which was 64%,” states the annual report.
In line with expectation given the rise in referrals and investigations, children placed on the Child Protection Register (CPR) have followed a similar pattern.
In 2016/17, a total of 123 children were placed on the register across the year compared to 111 in 2017/18.
This is not however a static picture as children are also removed from the CPR throughout the year.
From analysis it is starkly evident that the reason for registration is predominantly due to ‘domestic abuse’ and ‘neglect’, the latter of which reflects the national picture.
However we are the second highest local authority area for reported incidents of domestic abuse.
Contributing factors include also poverty in relation to families who may previously not have come to the attention of the statutory social work service.
This is due to the level of pressure they are experiencing from both reduced income and reduced benefits.
The introduction of the “robust” Initial Referral Discussion process has led to increased collective multi-agency identification of child concern cases.
This reflects good practice and is in line with National Guidance.
Identifying and allocating the cases which other services have concerns about is extremely important in order that the authority is able to intervene early and prevent further concern or harm occurring.
“We undertake reflective reviews of both local cases and some more high profile national cases. This has led to changes to local practice and an increased recognition that children and families need our support earlier and as such we have intervened earlier to prevent and reduce risk, ” said Ms Irvine, who recently took up a new post in Edinburgh.
Domestic violence continues to present a significant challenge for the residents and services within West Dunbartonshire.
Last year, West Dunbartonshire was identified as having the highest prevalence rate in Scotland. Through the implementation of a Domestic Abuse summit there has been an increased awareness raising campaign, engaging staff and services as well as local businesses and the community. This will be a continued focus in the year ahead.