Liberal Democrat Senedd member and former child protection social worker Jane Dodds MS has said a report by Care Inspectorate Wales on children’s services in Bridgend County Borough Council has “significant gaps” and calls for a Wales-wide inquiry and an overhaul of the inspection regime in Wales.
Bridgend County Borough Council meanwhile has welcomed the report into its children’s services, which it says has highlighted where the authority is performing well while also identifying areas where further improvements need to be made.
The council says the inspection has confirmed that a number of improvements have already been delivered since a previous inspection was held last year, and that the council has an ongoing action plan in place which is supporting further positive developments.
It says the report emphasises that the council must continue to deliver these identified improvements in order to avoid variation in the quality of its services and social work practice.
It also recognises the combined impact of national factors such as the Covid-19 global pandemic, significant increases in demand and ongoing issues around the recruitment and retention of staff, and how these are having an adverse effect upon the delivery of some services.
The report states: “Sustainable progress at pace is now needed across a range of service delivery areas if the local authority is to consistently deliver their core business of reducing risks to and promoting the well-being of children in need of help and protection.
“The application of effective quality assurance processes will be essential to securing and sustaining improvements and to ensure the timeliness, quality, and consistency of services for children and families.”
Gillian Baranski, chief inspector of Care Inspectorate Wales, said: “I am pleased to acknowledge there has been some improvement since our assurance check in April 2021.
“However, further urgent action must be taken to secure and sustain improvement in the care and support for children and families in Bridgend.
“This work must be prioritised to ensure the best possible outcomes for children.
“We will continue to liaise with the local authority’s senior leaders and are closely monitoring the local authority’s performance.”
Jane Dodds MS, who worked for over 25 years as a child protection social worker before entering the Senedd has been critical of the Welsh Labour Government, accusing them of ducking from scrutiny for not backing an independent inquiry into children’s services across all of Wales, as is taking place in England and Scotland.
According to Jane Dodds the report from Bridgend has significant gaps.
Ms Dodds said: “Missing from this report is the use of comparisons, there is no metric to identify how Bridgend is measuring up to other local authorities in Wales or even to previous inspections.
“The report also contains no reference to the tragic death of Logan Mwangi or what impact this has since had on workers in Bridgend children’s services. This is something that would have had a huge emotional impact on people and the services they deliver.
“There is also no specific focus on child protection work and how children are protected including no assessment about whether this service performs well or not. This is something we would want to see in a Wales-wide review.
“The report lacks context and does not tell me as a Senedd Member, how Bridgend are doing in comparison to Wales as a whole and how they could be supported with good practice from other local authorities
“It is my opinion that the inspection regime in Wales needs overhauling to focus on a pan Wales performance picture, assessing how local authorities measure up to this and then how they can be helped to improve.
“Finally, the Welsh Government must outline what it is doing to address the staffing crisis in children’s services, which is mentioned consistently throughout this report. Local authorities clearly need assistance in finding ways to recruit new staff and retain existing staff.”
Bridgend Council Cabinet Member for Social Services and Early Help, Councillor Jane Gebbie said: “We welcome the findings of this report, and have assured inspectors that the progress we have already made will continue. A great deal of work has already taken place to improve the overall quality of our services for children and their families, and much of this has been highlighted by the report.
“For example, we have commissioned a programme of independent quality assurance to assess the strengths and areas for development in children’s services, are actively recruiting new employees, and are carefully redeploying existing staff to provide additional support in areas experiencing the most pressure. Management oversight and decision-making has been strengthened by increased frequency of supervision in priority areas and the better collection and scrutiny of performance information data, and greater planning to reconfigure and improve the resilience and sustainability of the service in the longer term is also being taken forward.
“I would like to thank our children’s services workforce for the commitment and dedication that they have demonstrated during the considerable challenges of the pandemic and beyond. It is pleasing to note that when surveyed by the Care Inspectorate Wales, 93 per cent of our staff said that they felt well supported. We are committed towards giving our workforce all the support they need to do their jobs well, and to help them to develop their careers in Bridgend County Borough. The council also remains committed towards strengthening the overall effectiveness and resilience of its services for children, and we will continue to liaise closely with the inspectors as we seek to deliver further improvements.”
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