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Social work pressures start to recede

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By Marc McLean, local democracy reporter
Front
Social work pressures start to recede

EXTREME pressures that the region’s social work services were under during the pandemic are finally easing off.

After 2020/21 and the height of the pandemic was described as the “hardest year ever” by Dumfries and Galloway Council chief Lillian Cringles, the overstretched department appears to have found some breathing room.

There was no need to spend any additional funding for covid pressures at the end of the 2021/22 financial year, and £628,000 was also put aside in cash reserves, indicating a period of stability for the service.

The balancing of the books has been helped by extra income from the Home Office and an underspend in the staffing budget.

However, the department is still facing a shortage of social workers.

In a budget monitoring report due to be tabled at this Wednesday’s social work committee, finance officer Janet Sutton wrote: “Expenditure levels were not as high as anticipated due to recruitment of social workers being slower than anticipated due to a national shortage of qualified staff.

“However, significant progress is now being made.”

The finance officer revealed that almost £300,000 was handed to the council to help house young asylum seekers in the region.

She wrote: “Additional income of £281,000 was received from the Home Office, to support the costs incurred by the council for unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) who have entered the region.

“The number of UASC that have entered the region has increased in recent years and they are supported in various settings for example fostering placements and supported accommodation.

“Additional fee income was received from student social work placements (£110k). Additional income was received for covid-related pressures (£428k) but it was not possible to spend the total allocation in 21/22.

“Therefore this has been put into service reserves to be ring-fenced for specific purposes.”

The current position is much more stable than when the social work department were struggling to support kids, families and individuals in crisis during the pandemic.

Overall in 2020/21, the social work department handled 81,010 calls – which is equivalent to 222 per day. A total of 14,436 calls were received out of hours.

It was revealed earlier this year that a “significant number” of social work staff were burnt-out as a result and were forced to go off sick with work-related stress.

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