Agenda item

A 3 Year Sustainability Plan to Improve Outcomes for Children and Family Services in Bridgend


The Corporate Director – Social Services and Wellbeing presented a report, the purpose of which, was for Council to approve a 3-year plan (Appendix 1 to the report referred) to improve outcomes for children and families in Bridgend, with the financial implications arising from the actions in that plan supporting the safeguarding and protection of children in Bridgend.


The report outlined some background information, where it confirmed that in order to more robustly support the above, extra resource would be required in order to successfully achieve this when facing the number of anticipated challenges that lie ahead.


She explained that while during and post-Covid all services have been challenged, the social care services appear to have experienced the brunt of an imbalance between demand and capacity, particularly in the last two years. The level of demand for children’s statutory social care services over the last 18 months, particularly in Information, Advice and Assistance (IAA) and hub-based locality services has increased substantially. The headlines are that:


           8,334 contacts to children’s social care in 2022/23 compared to 5,667 (47.1% increase compared to 2021/22)

           3,114 assessments in 2022/23 (89.4% increase compared to 2021/22)

           1,202 children with care and support plans as at 31.03.23 (9.3% increase compared to 31.03.22)

           2,154 initial strategy meetings in 2022/23 (98.3% increase compared to 2021/22)

           1,557 completed S47 safeguarding investigations in 2022/23 (80% increase compared to 2021/22)

           270 children on the child protection register as at 31.03.23 (54% increase compared to 31.03.22)


The Corporate Director – Social Services and Wellbeing explained, that independent analysis reflected that the Council has worked hard and in general successfully over the last year to deal with the unprecedented demand rises. It has involved significant short-term funding to deal with a real capacity crisis. This response is evident in the current workforce position summarised below:


           Permanent establishment in children’s social care: 122.91 full time equivalents;

           The service is currently operating at 29% above establishment to meet all statutory duties in a timely way. This additional establishment is funded through a combination of earmarked reserves and specific grants but is also contributing to a significantly overspent position;

           There are 20% vacancies in the permanent workforce. There are usually around 5% absentees from work at any time;

           All vacant posts (and more) are covered to ensure the safety of safeguarding and child protection arrangements;

           38% of the current children’s social care workforce is therefore filled by agency staff.


Following analysis being undertaken that was outlined in the report, it was considered that the current systems that were in place were too complex, and colleagues across the system work hard on a day-to-day basis to ensure that they are managed effectively, and that decision-making is consistent. However, IPC’s review of specific case files, and interviews with managers, indicated they are well aware of the difficulties the system creates particularly in terms of the work streams highlighted in paragraph 3.9 of the report.


The Corporate Director – Social Services and Wellbeing went on to say that, for families or other professionals other more basic arrangements are potentially confusing. Currently on the website there are number of different telephone numbers which could be used regarding children’s services which can build in potential confusion particularly with the separation between early help and social care contact arrangements. IPC interviewed operational leaders of the services involved, and they reviewed a small selection of ten illustrative case files, selected as examples of more and of less effective practice. IPC state that it was clear to them, from this element of the work, that colleagues work hard together to co-ordinate responses to families and to make sure that gaps in provision are minimised. IPC had therefore identified areas for further practice and system improvement. These were contained in paragraph 3.10 of the report.


Therefore, in the light of the current challenges and the need to build a comprehensive and effective integrated service, IPC recommended a more integrated service be developed which is designed for Bridgend, but draws on best practice from other local authorities in Wales who have achieved significant improvement. These were highlighted in the report and its supporting information.


The Corporate Director – Social Services and Wellbeing finally drew Members attention to the report’s financial implications which though significant, would greatly contribute to delivering safe and effective services for children and families going forward.


The Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member – Social Services and Health confirmed that she was more than happy to support the report and its recommendations and she drew Council’s attention to paragraph 8.16,  which gave a financial commitment to the 3 Year Plan.


A Member noted the budgetary commitment that was required to strengthen the service, including the Council tapping into its earmarked reserves in order to meet the service needs while more permanent funding options were being investigated. He asked what level of funding in monetary terms were required to support the service longer term.


The Chief Officer – Finance, Performance and Change confirmed that £1m would be committed into the base budget for Social & Children’s Services and this would be ongoing as a permanent resource. However, a fund balance of £2.5m was required to fully support the reports proposals, though earmarked reserves could be used to achieve this in the current year. For next year such surplus would form part of the Revenue Budget setting process discussions, in order to achieve a suitable outcome.


A Member asked if the Authority were confident that the proposed Operating Module used for the 3 Year Plan will provide the sustainability required to meet estimated demand and also, would the objectives of the Plan be both met and measured. She also asked how often the Plan would be reviewed and what would be the consequences of the Plan’s proposals not being achieved. Who would also be accountable for this, she further added.


The Corporate Director – Social Services and Wellbeing advised that herself and key officers would be held to account on the delivery of the Plan, through bodies such as the Social Services Improvement Board which would have political representation from Cabinet members and Group Leaders. There were also weekly Performance Dashboard meetings through which progress was monitored, as well as the usual Directorate quarterly performance report updates.


The actions proposed within the Plan had been based on considerable evidence that had emerged following discussions with other Welsh and English local authorities that had found themselves in a similar position to BCBC and had subsequently made improvements in the service through a commitment of extra resource that could target issues such as for example, prevention and ways by which to assist in the escalation of need.


She added that she was the Officer responsible to meet the terms of the Plan as Statutory Officer for the service under the Social Services and Wellbeing legislation and that the Plan would also be subjected to monitoring by the Care Inspectorate for Wales, through their inspections which would look at issues such as quality of service and performance levels. Internally, the Plan would also be monitored through the O&S process and through the Corporate Performance Board (CPA).


For further details regarding debate that ensued on this important item, please click here.


RESOLVED:                                 That Council:


                                 • Approved ‘Think Family’, the 3 year sustainability plan for children and families in Bridgend.

  • Approved the budget virement of £1m to social services in accordance with the Council’s Financial Procedure Rules;

                                • Noted the additional use of £2.5m EMR’s in the current financial year to support the service as detailed in the report      

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