Welsh social workers need more time for direct work with children, warn inspectors

National inspection of council approaches to care planning found increasing number of inexperienced practitioners managing complex cases

Picture credit: Image Broker/Rex Features

Welsh social workers do not have enough time to prioritise direct work with children, a new report from the Care and Social Services Inspectorate (CSSIW) has warned.

The report states that even social workers with more manageable workloads are struggling to spend time with the children and young people they support, while in a number of cases, specialist teams of unqualified staff undertake this work instead.

The findings are from the national inspection of safeguarding and care planning, which explored the outcomes for looked-after children and care leavers with ‘risky behaviours’.

Inspectors identified the social work role was instead much more task driven and measured against compliance with statutory functions, such as attending meetings.

‘Significant practice issues’

The inspection also found an increasing number of inexperienced staff were managing complex cases, which placed additional burdens on managers.

All local authorities said they were facing challenges in recruiting and retaining experienced social workers, team managers and principal officers. This raised ‘significant practice issues’, the report warned, which risked leaving the complex needs of looked after children unmet.

Continuity

The report included the views of 300 children and care leavers, many of whom said they were unhappy with the number of changes in social worker they had experienced.

It warned there were too many examples of young people excusing their social worker’s inability to keep appointments or be on time because they understood they had prioritise other work on their caseloads, such as going to court.

Competing caseload pressures were also worsened by gaps in teams caused by uncovered sickness and maternity absences.

Young people were cited as wanting more regular, positive contact with their social worker, rather than just meeting them in times of crisis, because they valued them as the person most able to resolve problems and make decisions.

Inspectors have suggested it would now be ‘timely’ for the Welsh Government and councils to re-define the social work role, to ensure the importance of direct work is properly recognised.

Other key findings

The report also found:

  • The quality of care plans was variable and often lacked a clear focus on the longer term outcome for the child
  • Agencies took the risks to looked after children seriously but more effective coordination is needed in relation to managing and responding to risky behaviours
  • Difficulty in securing choice and stability of placements for young people is a key issue across Wales
  • Looked-after children and care leavers still face significant barriers in accessing services able to meet their psychological and emotional needs

Imelda Richardson, chief inspector at CSSIW, said: “Staff are working very hard in responding to safeguarding concerns but there has to be a more joined up approach to delivering care plans across all organisations to improve outcomes for children, young people and their families.

“The Social Services and Wellbeing Act will transform the delivery of social services in Wales and this report now provides an opportunity for the views and experiences of looked after children to shape how the services and support they receive.”

Emily Warren, director of the Fostering Network Wales, added: “The children in care in Wales deserve our communities and our wider society to be ambitious for them and supportive of them throughout their lives, and this must continue as they transition from care into independence.”

About the report
The report summarises the findings from inspection visits undertaken in Wales’ 22 local authorities between January and May 2014.The inspection aimed to explore the quality of care planning in promoting:

• Effective support and protection of looked after children and care leavers
• The identification and management of vulnerability and risk
• Improved outcomes for looked after children and care leavers
• Rights-based practice and the voice of the child

It also considered the authorities’ corporate parenting responsibilities, strategic and service planning and the extent to which policy and guidance provided an effective framework for good multi-disciplinary practice.

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