Councillor Jane Gebbie - Deputy Leader of Council and Cabinet Member for Social Services and Early Help
Claire Marchant - Corporate Director - Social Services and Wellbeing
Jacqueline Davies – Head of Adult Social Care
Laura Kinsey - Head of Children’s Social Care
Tracey Shepherd - Senior Manager - Local Authority Inspection Team - Care Inspectorate Wales
The Corporate Director – Social Services and Wellbeing presented the report the purpose of which was to present to the Committee the Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW) Inspection of Children’s Social Care Services Report and to request that the Committee consider the report and comment on the associated Action Plan.
The Deputy Head of Children’s Social Care presented the detailed Action Plan and explained that it was set out into 4 sections as per CIW’s report. He highlighted the work being done to address each area for improvement in the plan and confirmed that whilst some actions had been completed, several of them were ongoing but that many areas identified for improvement had already been identified by the service themselves prior to the inspection and work already begun on them.
The Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Social Services and Early Help (Deputy Leader) advised that when she was appointed as Cabinet Member for Social Services at the end of last year, she knew it was going to be a challenge and at times had been despondent regarding some of the challenges being faced. However, she was now more encouraged and could see more opportunities and spent her time as much as possible with service users. She advised of recent conversations Foster Carers who had been delighted to inform her of the changes they could see being made within the practice.
She highlighted that completing implementation of the ‘Signs of Safety’ training would give management oversight in a better form. In addition, she raised the challenges faced by the not-for-profit agenda in the sufficiency of provision of placements for young people. Finally, she highlighted the pressure on the budgets for Social Services and the need to look for a more sustainable future and guidance and direction from Welsh Government. She warned that if the budget situation remained the same, then Social Services would not remain the same and that there was a need to have a conversation with communities where the impact would be felt.
A Member thanked Officers and the Deputy Leader for their honesty and transparency and asked whether the Corporate Director was content that the inspection report was a true and accurate reflection of the service provision in Bridgend.
The Corporate Director – Social Services and Wellbeing confirmed that she was and highlighted that it reflected the self-evaluation they had presented to CIW and hoped that it also reflected the advice she had given to full Council when she presented the Director of Social Services Annual Report.
A Member referenced the high percentage of respondents to the people survey who felt they were ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ treated with dignity and respect, who felt they were ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ listened to, when asked how easy it was to make contact with social services, stated, ‘not easy’ or ‘very difficult’ and, when asked how useful the information, advice and assistance offered by social services was, responded either ‘not useful at all’ or ‘not useful.’ He noted the contrast to the staff survey whereby 93% of respondents stated they were supported to do their job and 71% stated their workload was manageable. He asked whether the figures were the normal standards and queried why the people survey seemed to report one thing and the staff survey another.
The Deputy Head of Children’s Social Care confirmed that the response to the people survey was an area they would want to see improved. He confirmed that whilst the service was having a very challenging time, the responses to the staff survey appeared to reflect the level of support, resources and wellbeing support being put in corporately.
In response to a question on when performance management would be aligned to the performance indicators, he highlighted that this had been recognised in the self-evaluation and whilst it was still an area for development, he advised that it was in a much better position since May with information available on a day-to-day basis to the management team.
In response to a question whether the challenge of persistently high volumes of referrals, increased complexity of need and workforce challenges were typical of all local authorities in Wales or relative to Bridgend, the Corporate Director – Social Services and Wellbeing confirmed that Bridgend was in the top quartile in terms of the number of care experienced children and the number on the Child Protection Register. There had been a significant increase, even since the review period, of children open to the authority on a care and support basis, in the number of contacts through front door and the number of assessments undertaken in children’s statutory services.
She highlighted the need to shift the balance of care and that CIW had picked up that the authority was missing opportunities to prevent escalation of need and that work needed to be done across the system to look at where resources were invested. Whilst acknowledging the need for resources when statutory intervention was necessary, she highlighted that where children and families were motivated to change, the need to have targeted prevention services which might provide better outcomes than statutory services. The Institute of Public Care (IPC) were undertaking a piece of work looking at Early Help, Edge of Care, safeguarding and how to manage the needs of children and families in Bridgend, driven by data and evidence. However, the advice from IPC was that the demand at the current volume was likely to continue over at least a 2-year period and they had provided clear criteria as to what needs to be considered to reduce the level. Therefore whilst, some authorities across Wales were exhibiting similar features some had been successful in shifting the balance of care.
In relation to a question on whether the missed opportunities to thoroughly explore and mitigate risk and a lack of professional curiosity were due to issues of capacity, the Deputy Head of Children’s Social Care clarified that CIW had been referring to the skillset they saw reflected in the files in terms of practice. He referred to the Action Plan and the suite of training options that had been collated; a lot of which were mandatory (for permanent and agency staff). He highlighted that professional curiosity was a real skill, to get beneath what is presented at face value and one which all social workers needed to have.
Later, a Member expressed concern that children may inadvertently drop off the radar due to a lack of professional curiosity or taking people at face value and queried whether there was an internal mechanism for junior staff to take back concerns to senior managers to ensure risks not explored could be probed further.
The Deputy Head of Children’s Social Care confirmed that it was important to have support management oversight, supervision and informal supervision. He recognised that the opportunity to have across the desk conversations had gotten lost during the pandemic but that all safeguarding teams were now back in well staffed offices and that supervision training was crucial to ensure managers had the skills to provide that guidance. Whilst there had been significant challenges of vacancies at management levels, they had been able to appoint senior managers from other local authorities where the market supplement had assisted.
In response to a request for clarity on the meaning of inconsistent thresholds and standards, he advised that it referred to the level of intervention provided based on risk. The very significant increased contacts Information, Advice and Assistance (IAA) received were reflected in a number of files CIW looked at and they noted the significant improvement from the inconsistency of thresholds and decision making from the critical incident in February and March. The number of managers put into that service had been tripled with additional capacity from senior social workers who make most decisions in terms of risk and ensure consistent thresholds.
A Member noted the delay in reports being written and asked whether calls to IAA were recorded so that the information contained in a call would be available immediately, if required.
The Deputy Head of Children’s Social Care confirmed that calls were not recorded but highlighted that if any professional had a safeguarding concern, they should put a call in and that it was important that was recorded on the correct document. He confirmed that Education had their own safeguarding procedures and policies and whilst teachers can contact IAA for advice, if a professional calls for advice and wants the information recorded, they need to state that, so that there is dual responsibility.
To clarify a Member’s query as to whether it would be the responsibility of the person reporting to submit a form after the call if they wanted their information to be recorded, he advised that it would depend on the nature of the discussion but that if it was to make a safeguarding referral that a professional wanted to put in, it should be followed up in writing, but that professionals in IAA did record on the system conversations with other professionals.
The Member expressed concern that there could be a number of minor concerns reported by different individuals resulting in a safeguarding concern which IAA may not necessarily pick up. The Corporate Director agreed to produce a briefing note setting out the process for calls made to the IAA Service, to include detail as to how or if these are being recorded and the responsibility of schools when making safeguarding referrals.
The Member noted the percentage of responses to the people survey that did not find the advice given to be helpful and highlighted that if calls were recorded, that Managers could listen to the advice and if it were not helpful, it could raise a training issue. She stated that Headteachers received conflicting advice whereby some are advised that they did not need to fill out a form, whilst some did constitute a safeguarding referral, so it was vital that all calls were recorded in order to protect children.
The Deputy Head of Children’s Social Care confirmed that there were internal processes within schools whereby they report their issues and concerns, albeit low level concerns. If those constituted a safeguarding concern and a safeguarding referral was made, that was recorded. However, he offered to look into individual cases offline with the Member.
The Corporate Director - Social Services and Wellbeing advised that they were trying to ensure a stronger interface with schools and that the Deputy Head of Children’s Services would be meeting the Federation of Headteachers for Primary and Secondary schools. They were also looking to re-start regular meetings on a school cluster basis to explore examples and understand whether they were one-off matters or indicative of something more systemic. She also confirmed that Education had the safeguarding infrastructure which could be used to raise concerns.
The Deputy Leader advised that the IPC had highlighted that Bridgend has two front doors for safeguarding which was not good practice and was something the service were looking to address as part of their Action Plan.
In response to a query regarding the facilitation of supervised contact, the Corporate Director clarified that these were contact arrangements directed by the family courts for care experienced children with their parents and extended family, supervised by contact workers in a suitable venue and should be a positive experience for the child. She confirmed that they were seeing an increasing amount of contact being directed by the courts and that an initial review was being undertaken to consider short term measures to ensure capacity to facilitate contact in the best quality way before a deeper review in the New Year.
In response to a question as to what was being done to achieve consistent high-quality reports, the Deputy Head of Children’s Services referred to training being provided to staff on report writing and the recording policy to support good quality, consistent records as well as supervision training for managers.
A Member asked what was included in the Action Plans that had been developed and implemented.
The Corporate Director – Social Services and Wellbeing advised that following the critical incident there were single agency reviews in a timely manner which was recognised by CIW and action plans followed integrated into the performance evaluation action plan and 3-year strategic plan, as well as a consolidated action plan from the findings of the audit regarding improving practice and policies, ensuring effective quality assurance systems and good management oversight.
A Member asked what the average caseload per social worker was, the highest number of cases with a social worker and whether, on an assessment level, caseloads were at a critical level, whereby identifying or mitigating risk was considered to be a serious issue.
In IAA, the Deputy Head of Children’s Services said that case levels were 16 and the lowest he had ever known and within the managed service would be around 18 or 19. In the Locality teams the highest caseload was around 26 but would have some specific circumstances around it such a large sibling group. Within the West Locality team average caseloads were around 20, in the North around 23 and in the East around 24 or 25. He agreed to provide the highest caseload number by locality to the Committee after the meeting.
The Corporate Director - Social Services and Wellbeing confirmed that caseloads in IAA were about right due to the significant additional resource in that part of the service. The caseloads in safeguarding localities were higher than ideal which would be around 15. Whist work was ongoing to see if cases could safely be closed from care and support, the service had also worked hard to ensure that all cases were allocated at all times, even if this meant senior social workers or team managers holding a small number of cases for a short time. However, she also highlighted that the volume of work made it difficult to keep caseloads at a manageable level and hence the level of budget pressures and agency workers.
In relation to budget pressures, the Deputy Leader advised that IAA had an appropriate level of caseload due to the additional resource and agency staff put into the service at a significant cost to the Authority.
In response to a query on the level of caseloads to enable social workers to cope with pressures of the work and to identify and mitigate risk, the Deputy Head of Children’s Services advised that the gold standard would be around 15 to 18 cases and maybe slightly higher in IAA, where there was a higher turnover of cases.
In response to a question on ‘Back to Basics’ training, the Deputy Head of Children’s Services advised that the training had started to be delivered before the inspection, was mandatory for all and had been rolled out and delivered, but would continue to be part of induction training for all new staff.
With regard to whether there were individual training plans for each individual member of staff or generic training plans for roles, he confirmed that every social worker’s training was a key part of their monthly supervisions and that their individual training plans were considered every year in their annual appraisal. In addition, there were team and service training plans which evolved and that there was a continuous review on the need for training. He acknowledged that the struggle faced by practitioners in prioritising training against the demand of urgent cases and highlighted the need for balance of competing pressures.
The Deputy Leader advised that social workers needed to complete a mandatory number of hours of Continued Professional Development in order to remain registered, and that practitioners had also been told to prioritise some mandatory training, particularly in relation to the introduction of the new model of practice.
CIW noted that there had been a ‘significant adverse impact on the delivery of some children’s services’ and a Member queried whether there were other services as well as IAA which could be a cause for concern.
The Corporate Director – Social Services and Wellbeing confirmed that it largely related to the critical incident in IAA but highlighted that cases would not go into IAA in isolation and might transfer to other parts of the service, although she advised that they try to operate as one service. She also highlighted an example of some of the circumstances regarding a critical incident being called in IAA.
In relation to a question on supervision records, she confirmed that it was an area that was regularly audited and that a supervision policy was being co-produced with supervisors and supervisees. The supervision records were produced by supervisors but she acknowledged that it had not always been as good as it should have and that it was an area where standards needed to be set.
A Member asked for information on what direct payments (DPs) were, how many had been applied for and how many had been paid.
The Deputy Head of Children’s Services confirmed that DPs were a form of support provided to children and adults and in children’s social care used to support families and disabled children following an assessment of whether their needs can be met by a DP. The DP is paid to a family who can employ a personal advisor to help them meet the identified support need. He confirmed that the number of DPs provided increased year on year, which created budget pressures and that there would be a review of DPs across the directorate this year. On 12 December, they would be engaging and launching a strategy and policy document and he hoped that the policy review would address the issues of families reporting having to jump through hoops to obtain a DP.
A Member asked what the plan was to reduce the 12-week waiting list for mental health support and expressed concern that some children with mental health concerns were also absent from school and the waiting list was also then impacting on their education.
The Deputy Head of Children’s Social Care agreed that the waiting list was far too long for such an important service and was not provided by the social services directorate. However, he agreed to obtain information regarding the waiting list from the relevant senior officer.
In relation to how the waiting list had been allowed to reach 12 weeks, the Deputy Leader reiterated the significant issues in workforce across Wales and stated that it was something Welsh Government needed to consider in depth. She advised that the last social work training course in Cardiff was only half full and that Bridgend was recruiting its own social work students with more take up than ever before. She continued that where staff had been diverted from a service or there was a lack of staff, there would be a delay but that it had improved following the inspection.
The Corporate Director - Social Services and Wellbeing, responded to a query as to what the Directorate were doing to encourage people into a career in social care in Bridgend instead of other local authorities, acknowledging the need for more sensitive marketing and confirmed there was an earmarked reserve to fund a marketing post in the directorate. She referred to the need for people to feel well supported and for a competitive financial and non-financial offer. In addition, there was a need for colleagues to promote the opportunities in their networks.
In order to reassure the Committee about the process for recording episodes of missing children, the Deputy Head of Children’s Services advised that in the case of a missing child, a safeguarding referral was placed on the child’s file and there would be written records in response with management oversight and actions agreed.
In response to a question regarding meaningfully involving children and young people, he confirmed that it would be a key requirement of the Corporate Parenting and Participation Officer. Care experienced children and all children’s views would be at the centre of the creation of the engagement and involvement framework. The voice of the child was also central to the Back to Basics training which should be reinforced by team managers in supervision.
The Deputy Leader advised that care experienced children had her contact details and there was an open-door policy to discuss any concerns they may have.
In response to a query on the return of rota visits, the Corporate Director - Social Services and Wellbeing advised that the Directorate was actively looking into how they could be brought back effectively.
She also confirmed that the delivery of the Action Plan would impact on envelope of the budget in which they were working. There were significant overspends which was largely driven by workforce, reliance on agency staff and the placement situation. There was also some dedicated support funded by ear marked reserves due to the underspend position last year.
The Chairperson thanked the Deputy Leader, the Corporate Director - Social Services & Wellbeing and the Deputy Head of Children’s Social Care for their report and the information provided to the Committee.
RESOLVED: Following detailed consideration and discussions with
Officers and Cabinet Members, the Committee made the
1. That the Chair of the Subject Overview and Scrutiny Committee 2 liaise with the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Social Services and Early Help to identify:
a) What Members can do to support the Council’s promotion of recruitment into Bridgend Social Services; and
b) What support the Committee can provide to the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Social Services and Early Help in her discussions with Welsh Local Government Association regarding employment terms and conditions and pay.
and the Committee requested:
2. A briefing note setting out the process of calls made to the Information, Advice and Assistance (IAA) Service to include detail as to how or if these are being recorded and the responsibility of schools when making safeguarding referrals.
3. Detail of Social Worker current caseloads including the highest caseload attributed to any one Social Worker.
4. How many Direct Payments have been applied for in the past 12 months and how many were made.
5. The current waiting list for children awaiting help from the Youth Emotional Mental Health Team.