Rise in numbers of looked after children in Wales

Numbers of looked-after children in Wales rose last year
according to new local authority performance indicators published
by the Audit Commission.

For every 1,000 children, an average of 5.5 were in local
authority care in 1999-2000, compared with 4.9 the previous year.
The highest number was in Blaenau Gwent, where one child in every
hundred was looked-after.

Eighty per cent of those looked after by the 22 Welsh local
authorities last year were in foster care. The number of children
who had three or more placements during the year fell from 7.6 per
cent in 1998-99 to 6.2 per cent.

Child protection cases fell from 3.6 children per 1,000 children
to 3.4. Of those, 86 per cent were reviewed on time. However, this
figure fell dramatically in Ceredigion and Vale of Glamorgan to
just 28.6 per cent and 34.8 per cent respectively.

Ninety per cent of children on the child protection register
were visited once every six weeks by their social worker. However,
Gwynedd failed to meet this criteria in almost two thirds of its
child protection cases.

Inspections of children’s residential homes were generally
carried out on time with the notable exception of Powys, which
achieved just a 50 per cent inspection rate.

All 22 local authorities achieved a 100 per cent inspection rate
for inspections of residential homes for adults. Nine in 10 adults
in residential care were allocated a single room, and the same
proportion had been given a statement of their needs and told how
they would be met.

Expenditure on social services varied widely between Welsh local
authorities, with spending per head of the population ranging from
£158.95 in Pembrokeshire to £265.22 in Merthyr Tydfil for
1999 to 2000.

Hugh Gardner, chairperson of the Association of Directors of
Social Services in Wales, acknowledged that inconsistencies between
areas were still a problem.

He said this could be partly attributed to the different
approaches taken towards independent versus in-house services, and
to the polarisation of communities – some of which are very
disadvantaged – as a result of local government reorganisation.

“Nonetheless, it’s a serious question as to why Pembrokeshire is
spending so little and Merthyr Tydfil is spending so much,” Gardner
added. “The difference between them is almost £100 per head.
That’s a huge variation.”

Gardner predicted the opportunity to compare local authority
performance and share good practice would “improve dramatically”
this year with the establishment within the next few months of the
all-Wales consortium support unit.

Funded by the National Assembly for Wales, the unit will support
collaboration and co-operation, facilitate information exchange,
and provide performance management advice.

* Comparative figures for local authorities in England were
published in January. For more information go to
www.audit-commission.gov.uk or to search on this website using
‘performance indicators’ as the keywords.

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