Social Work staff in Dorset are said to be positive about proposed changes to the way they work – according to children’s services director Sarah Parker.

The changes, and new structures, are currently being rolled out with a 45-day formal consultation as part of the process. It is hoped they will be fully in place in the new year.

The director believes the changes will reduce the number of children and young people in the care of Dorset Council and allow social workers and other care staff to spend more time and have closer relationships with families.

At its core is earlier intervention, appropriate support to families and children and getting decisions right, first time.

The authority today has around 425 young people in its care and has seen the numbers increase in recent years, at a time when both the national and regional rates in care have declined. Dorset Council is now in the bottom ten for the number of children placed more than twenty miles from home and faces a forecast overspend of £5.5million for the current financial year in its children’s budget.

Director Sarah Parker told this week’s corporate parenting board that the improvement she wanted to make could not be achieved if the council carried on working the way it was now.

“Part of that is listening to the staff and to children and young people as well…we need to prevent them being looked after children; but if we can’t do that, we need to ensure they are happy, listened to and have some control over their life pathway,” she said.

The board also heard that the new way of working may also provide an incentive to attract social workers to the county, recruitment shortages being an on-going theme in Dorset, tackled short-term by employing expensive agency social workers.

Ms Parker admitted than making changes was ‘a risky business’ but she said staff would be listened to throughout the process and any concerns responded to.

“We have started to engage with staff and have talked about making a difference …they are pleased we are listening to them and I am hearing a huge degree of positivity about how we can move forward,” she said.