A councillor today sought reassurances over a recorded rise in child protection cases, which shot up by 157 in one financial year.
Amanda Westlake raised questions in the town hall about a “very pronounced” rise in referrals in 2014/15 compared with the previous year.
They show 234 referrals involving 382 children in the last financial year, compared with just 77 referrals – involving 94 children – previously recorded.
Initial child protection case conferences rose from 18 in 2013/14 to the latest recorded figure of 50.
The stats were contained in the chief social worker’s far-reaching annual report, which was being presented for the first time to members of the social services committee by Martha Nicolson, who took on the top social work job at the end of June.
Ms Westlake said she was “quite shocked” to see the rise in numbers, and wondered whether the increase had put pressure on staff. She also wondered whether it would be repeated in the following year’s report.
However, Mrs Nicolson pointed to changes in some of the processes around how referrals are recorded which had “inflated” some of the figures.
Early analysis reflected a hike in the number of referral cases nationally, with greater public awareness over issues which might lead to children being given protection.
Referrals about unsafe use of the internet sometimes relates to young people as well, the report found. More referrals also come from the NHS and schools than did before.
Mrs Nicolson said improved processes and communication between different agencies helped raise awareness around child protection.
She added a piece of work was ongoing around the number of child protection de-registrations, which had gone from five in 2013/14 to 29 last year – perhaps surprisingly, given the hike in registrations.
The study is examining how many of those de-registered have since gone back onto the child protection list.
She added two new social workers had been appointed to help deal with the workload – something Ms Westlake regarded as “reassuring”.
The meeting also heard of an increase in adult protection referrals, which went from 205 in 2013/14 to 223 in 2014/15. However, the vast majority of those – 215 – failed to meet a “three-point test” which assesses whether or not they are considered to be at risk.
The figures come against the unwelcome backdrop of a dip in budgets for children’s services and community care.
Budgets for those departments have reduced from £45.3 million and £22.9 million respectively to £39.4 million and £19.7 million in 2015/16. But further reductions identified in the council’s medium term financial plan will see the budgets drop again to £35.8 million and £18 million by 2019/20. The report points out that, as a share of the overall council budget, the resources allocated to the directorates will have increased.
Although it was Mrs Nicolson’s first annual report as chief social work officer, the meeting was the final social services committee meeting to be held in the town hall.
The committee is being phased out in favour of the new integration joint board – the body which bridges the council and health board.
Chairman Cecil Smith said he had chaired the social services committee for five and a half years. He added he had enjoyed his time chairing the committee, which had tried to deliver the best services possible for the people of Shetland.