North Wales Social Services Under Pressure

Huge numbers of child protection referrals by police are putting pressure on social services in North Wales, it was claimed yesterday.

As a result, some social service departments are “struggling to manage”.

But a senior police officer vowed that referrals would continue wherever the police felt the “welfare and safety” of children was at risk.

In a letter to Saltney Mayor and Flintshire councillor Klaus Armstrong-Braun, North Wales Police sought to “clarify” remarks made by Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom at a training session for councillors which Coun Armstrong-Braun attended last year.

Det Sup Alan Green writes: “The issue raised by the Chief Constable was not so much a concern, but a means of raising your awareness to comments made to him at meetings he attends with chief executives of local authorities. These were to the effect that some social services departments were struggling to manage the volume of referrals regarding child protection issues that they were receiving from North Wales Police.

“Chief Constable Brunstrom’s opinion, which he relayed to the chief executives, was that North Wales Police will continue to make such referrals in all cases where police officers have information concerning the welfare and safety of a child.

“The issue of sufficient and suitably trained staff being available within local authority social services departments to deal with these referrals is a matter for the local authorities to address.”

He said police were reviewing their own practices and added: “I can also assure you that we are engaging with social services departments across North Wales to explore ways in which the transfer of information can be done effectively and to assist when possible with reducing the workload.”

Coun Armstrong-Braun said the response indicated North Wales councils did not have sufficient staff to cope with referrals. He called for a review of child protection procedures in the wake of the Baby P murder where Haringey children’s service was slated for failing to halt the abuse which led to the infant being tortured and murdered, despite being on the at-risk register.

Despite the fact that Flintshire managers have carried out an audit of all child protection plans for children on the child protection register following the Baby P disaster, Coun Armstrong-Braun is “horrified” the council does not carry out joint exercises with other agencies involved in child protection.

“I have asked the Welsh Assembly Government’s social services inspectorate to investigate why joint exercises are not carried out,” he said.

Susan Lewis, director of community services at Flintshire Council, said: “We do not carry out joint exercises to test the procedures, but we are confident that the systems in place are able to handle any situation that may occur.”

In North Wales there are about 400 children on child protection registers. Social service departments receive hundreds of child referrals from NWP each month – Anglesey average 110, Wrexham 200-300 a quarter – but only a small number will require intervention by social services.

A spokesman for Anglesey said: “All referrals have to be properly recorded and considered which, inevitably, involves a considerable investment of time. It would be helpful if colleague agencies filtered referrals to ensure that they were relevant to the receiving agency.

Wrexham’s chief support and safeguarding officer Marie LeBacq said: “ The volume of work has increased and we are reviewing capacity within the team.”

A spokesman for Conwy said: “We are working with the police regarding the high level of referrals in this area. It is important all agencies refer only those cases which meet the procedural criteria for intervention. This is not related to staffing issues but is about the right to a family life and privacy, as opposed to unwarranted intervention.”