The Care & Social Service Inspectorate of Wales (CSSIW) today published a critical report into Bridgend Council’s (BCBC) Children’s Social Services department (pdf), following inspections carried out in January and February this year.
Children’s social services in Bridgend have been under close scrutiny for several years following a number of serious failings.
One recent case includes the mismanagement of the savings of a looked-after child. Meanwhile, there’s also a campaign against Bridgend’s reportedly high rate of “forced adoptions” (where children are put up for adoption based on predicted future risk of harm) which resulted in a protest outside the Civic Offices in May.
In 2015-16, children’s social services made just under 5,000 contacts, of which just under 2,000 required full intervention – an increase of 8% and 28% respectively on the previous year.
While CSSIW believe no children were harmed or put at risk of harm, they found weaknesses and inconsistencies in how BCBC consulted with affected families, carried out assessments and planned support. As I’ve covered previously, BCBC also still have problems in recruiting and retaining experienced social workers.
Some of the report’s key findings include:
- There’s a lack of information provided to children and their families on what services are available and how to access them.
- Some families referred to “early help” services actually have far more complicated needs than expected.
- Different agencies don’t understand BCBC’s threshold criteria (where social services start to become involved in a case).
- The quality of assessments and recordings were “variable”, with the child’s wishes and feelings not well-reflected in reports.
- Social services don’t properly explain issues and proposed actions families, many of whom didn’t understand why social services were involved in their lives; a minority describe the process as “oppressive”.
- Caseloads were described by senior managers as “increasingly unmanageable” and the assessment team were being “stretched by competing and relentless demands”.
- Councillors aren’t being given the right information to properly understand the service and its outcomes/improvements.
- Staff morale was described as “variable”.
There was some good news. Inspectors believe BCBC act quickly when it becomes obvious that a child is at risk; there’s a good working relationship between social services and the police; management and leadership meets expectations; the levels of support for newly recruited social workers was praised. The report also acknowledges that behind-the-scenes changes being made at BCBC (to meet the requirements of the Social Services & Well-being Act 2014) will take time to bed in, as well as the impact budget cuts have on maintaining the service amidst growing demand.Progress has been made in filling vacant social worker posts, but many of the posts are staffed by inexperienced and newly-qualified workers, which may make re-modelling the service even harder.
BCBC will now draft an improvement plan based on the report’s 20 recommendations which will be closely monitored by CSSIW.