Plea Over Swansea Social Services Staffing

More social workers are needed to cope with the increasing demands of Swansea’s social services department.

Wendy Fitzgerald, the authority’s cabinet member who heads the department, has admitted that pressures of staff recruitment and retention need to be addressed if the service is to improve its response to their growing caseloads.

The candid admission came after calls for her resignation earlier this month, following a critical report into the social services children’s services.

Councillor Fitzgerald said: “We knew there were problems. We were trying to deal with these problems and have made considerable progress – but the report said we have to move more quickly.

“If we have to increase staff complement then that is something we are looking at.”

The review of children’s social services by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CCSSIW) raised concerns about access to the department’s services, concluding that assessment of cases, care management and arrangements to protect vulnerable people were poor.

The report led to an extraordinary meeting (EGM) of the council two weeks ago, where opposition councillors called for Councillor Fitzgerald to step down.

That in turn lead to a symbolic vote of no confidence in Council Leader Chris Holley, after he declined to remove Councillor Fitzgerald from her post.

But now the ward councillor for Penllergaer has hit back, defending her handling of the department while acknowledging the concerns highlighted in the report.

“We know there were problems. We were trying to deal with these problems and have made considerable progress.

“The report said that we were not making sufficient progress in time.

“Overall, we were doing the right thing, but the focus was that we needed to step-up and have to move faster.

“Staff are working in a very difficult environment, under high pressure and high caseloads.

“We do not always do as we want to do and are required to do. That is where we have to change.”

She also revealed that to meet the demands of the children and family services, up to 17 vacancies were filled with agency staff, and that retired staff were helping to bring caseloads up to date.

Councillor Fitzgerald also defended the statement she made during the EGM that she had not been aware of the full extent of the problems within her department.

“What I did not know obviously is what each social worker puts on the file. I do not know that level of detail.” she said.

“I am responsible for the professional management side of business, of the overall strategic side.”

The EGM also considered a review of how the case of baby Aaron Gilbert had been handled, following the death of the 13-month old baby from Townhill in 2005 at the hands of 23-year-old Andrew Lloyd.

The report criticised agencies involved in the tragedy, including police, the probation service and Adult Mental Health Services, for not sharing information.

“It was a catalogue of errors – it was a multi-agency failure but we got the biggest kick because we took the phone call,” said Councillor Fitzgerald.

And she criticised council colleagues for damning her department: “It is not helpful to be told we are the worst when we are not the worst.

“We are doing the right things but we have to do them faster.”