Welsh children’s minister Jane Hutt has acknowledged this week that children’s services face “significant challenges” in Wales.
As the Safeguarding Vulnerable Children Review report launched this week concluded that the protection of children in Wales should be more effective, Hutt said the government has already acted on many of its recommendations.
But the children’s minister recognised that “significant challenges” lie ahead for children’s services.
The report – the result of a wide-ranging independent two-year review – calls for a slow down in the “rapid rate of change” in the sector, saying a “clearer and more sustained focus upon what works” is key to better safeguarding.
Children’s services in Wales lack “coherence” and the review found evidence of “inadequate” planning and delivery and a lack of consistency.
Better local and national co-ordination is required, it says.
The review recommends a review of costs and less use of short-term funding, to increase stability.
Much still to do
The huge remit of the review means that many of its recommendations “point up the need for further work,” said its chair, Labour assembly member Gwenda Thomas.
Joe Howsam, co-chair of the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru and its lead on children, who sat on the review, agreed that the launch of the report is just the beginning, with much still to do.
Other recommendations include establishing a national strategic plan for children’s services, a strengthened role for the children’s minister and a new children’s scrutiny committee.
Familiar issues discussed in the report include social worker shortages and poor partnership and information sharing between agencies.
It sets broad challenges for future action including implementing the 2005 ADSS Cymru report, led by Tony Garthwaite on the social care workforce.
Penny Lloyd, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers Cymru, says the report “tells us what we already know – but it needs to be said”.
“A public statement of how difficult it is for social workers to protect children is extremely valuable,” said Lloyd.
The Cymru branches of NSPCC and Association of Directors of Social Services agree that much in the report is not new but still highly value and welcome it.
The report states: “Many children’s services professionals, particularly social workers do not have adequate access to continuing training and good professional support, and they are overworked, stressed and demoralised.”
Social workers, unlike nurses and teachers, do not have dedicated time with appropriate staff cover for training, it says.
Lloyd emphasised that inability to attend training due to lack of cover is an increasing worry for the profession.
Howsam, who is director of social services at Caerphilly Council, said the ADSS continued to be “very worried” on workforce issues including shortages of children’s social workers and managers.
Evidence to the review showed that health and education services are also suffering shortages of children’s staff, not just social services, he added.
Resources need to be targeted better on the most vulnerable children, according to Howsam.
Other challenges set out in the report include developing standards for independent advocacy and a common framework for children’s participation in policy and service development.
Some of the many service areas highlighted for improvement include child and adolescent mental health services and education for looked-after children.
Initiatives are also suggested on safeguarding children issues for the police when dealing with domestic violence and antisocial behaviour and child protection within sport.
Simon Jones, NSPCC Cymru policy adviser urged the Welsh assembly to set a clear timetable for implementing the report’s recommendations, and to review progress on doing so.
The review team does praise progress made within children’s services in Wales including listening to children, and many examples of better integrated planning.
The report has an extremely broad remit and ranges far and wide, addressing many issues that will not be easily or quickly resolved.
One stated aim is “to address the confused and conflicting attitudes to children in our society” by the public and the media. This is laudable but perhaps idealistic, especially with so many extremely pressing issues jostling for action.
The report was commissioned by children’s minister Jane Hutt and Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan in 2003.
Formal government response and debate in the Welsh Assembly on the report will follow.
ADSS Cymru, children’s charities, Social Services Inspectorate Wales, and representatives from the police, health, education and social services academics all took part in the review.
Unusually, the report was not commissioned in response to a crisis. This may have contributed to a lack of focus in its aims. Setting priorities for action from its large selection of objectives must be the next step.
Keeping us safe: report of the safeguarding vulnerable children review is not yet available online.
Hard copies of an executive summary, and a children’s version are available by calling Judith Smetham at the Welsh assembly on 02920 825516. The full report is to be published in June.