New police system could lead to referrals 'upsurge'

The roll-out of Greater Manchester’s controversial new police computer system could lead to an ‘upsurge’ in referrals to children’s social services, according to chiefs.

The Integrated Operation Policing System (IOPS), cost £27m and was already 19 months behind schedule when it was eventually switched on earlier this summer.

Whistleblowers and MPs have raised concerns that the new system is slowing down policing and hindering investigations; claims the force strongly denies.

Now Oldham’s interim head of children’s services, Merlin Joseph, has told councillors that there have been ‘challenges’ with IOPs, and they are predicting a forthcoming ‘upsurge’ in referrals to their social workers.

Oldham had been well above its statistical neighbours for the numbers of vulnerable youngsters being referred to social care, as well as the number of kids being taken into care by the council.

Following significant investment in the service, the number of referrals has been declining steadily since August 2018.

However there was a significant drop this summer, dipping from 362 in July to just 194 in August.

The IOPs computer system went live in July.

The figures were presented in an update on the borough’s children’s services to the performance and value for money select committee.

Its chair, Councillor Riaz Ahmad said: “The number of referrals has gone down, and we are more in line with statistical neighbours, can that be sustained?”

Ms Joseph responded: “We’re cautious about that. We’re currently developing our early help offer.

“That’s likely to reduce the demand at the front door. 

“The police are currently implementing a new system and there has been some challenges with that so once that is fully implemented we are likely to see an upsurge of referrals coming in.

“But obviously we’re monitoring that very carefully. But the early help offer should help reduce the need for statutory intervention.”

In the authority’s most recent Ofsted inspection, the service was found once again to be ‘requires improvement to be good’ – and now won’t be assessed again for three years.

But the meeting was told that the department’s improvement plan which was submitted to the watchdog was accepted without further amendments.

Councillors heard that the amount of overspend on children’s services is also reducing, going £471k over budget so far this year, as compared to the millions in the previous two years.

And chiefs said they see ‘no reason’ why they shouldn’t have a balanced budget this year, following investment into staffing.

In total, £12 million is being invested from the council’s budget over the next three years to cement improvement into the system.

Ms Joseph said: “Social work caseloads were way above the expected numbers so that short term investment was to increase the social worker capacity so that social workers could have manageable caseloads.”

She added that the caseloads are now under 30, with the majority less than 25.

Senior finance manager, Andy Cooper added:  “Spending is under control, we’re now on a stronger footing and significant actions are in place to address the overspending and deliver an improved service in light of increasing demand and complexity.”

Councillors were told that there had been ‘real success’ in recruiting senior managers into the department and bosses intend to have filled those posts by December 

They had previously had 75 agency social work posts, but in the last round of recruitment 25 of those agency workers applied to have permanent roles with the council.

“We believe that certainly by March 2020 we’ll be in a really, really good place because the morale is high in children’s social care and people want to work in Oldham,” Ms Joseph concluded.

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