Welsh Councils Criticised Over Social Services

THE provision of social services in Wales was under scrutiny last night after two councils were heavily criticised in unrelated incidents.

Deputy Minister for Social Services Gwenda Thomas said yesterday there had been little improvement in social services for children in Swansea after a damning report 20 months ago, and slammed the authority’s leadership as “inadequate”.

Her statement came a day after the Western Mail revealed social services in the Vale of Glamorgan placed an 18-year-old man known to have committed sex offences in a home with two young children. The teenager went on to sexually assault them both.

Yesterday, Ms Thomas said she was considering declaring those charged with delivering children’s social services in Swansea “in default of certain of their functions”.

A review carried out by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales in March and April 2007 found that there were serious concerns in core areas of service provision.

A further inspection undertaken in December 2008 has found that the services remain largely the same.

Ms Thomas said: “Its services remain inconsistent and the prospects for improvement remain uncertain.

“There have been some improvements. However, progress has been limited and patchy and, in the view of CSSIW, children are still not being well served.

“I should like to recognise the dedication and commitment of the authority’s front-line staff.

“They must, however, be supported by authority-wide support and strong corporate leadership if their hard work is to be effective.

“This leadership has not been adequate.

“I have therefore met this morning with the deputy leader [John Hague] and social services portfolio holder [Wendy Fitzgerald] to inform them that I am considering making an Order under Section 84 of the Children Act 1989 declaring them in default of certain of their functions in relation to the provision of children’s social services.

“I intend to put in place an Intervention Board to provide robust external challenge to the authority.

“The Intervention Board will have substantial powers to require the authority to take all responsible steps to enable it to fulfil its responsibilities.

“I am aware of the fact that this is the first occasion when such an order might be issued in respect of a local authority in Wales, but feel that the circumstances are such that I must give very serious consideration to doing so.”

In response, a spokesman for Swansea council said: “Swansea council’s priority is to ensure that children are safe, some of whom are the most vulnerable members of our communities.

“In its latest report the CSSIW says there has been some progress on access to services, assessment, care management and arrangements for vulnerable people – none of which are now ranked ‘poor’, as they were in 2007.

“We share her [the minister’s] determination and we recognise there is much more to do to sustain and develop the improvements CSSIW have identified.”

Meanwhile, in the Vale of Glamorgan, there were calls for an independent inquiry into how a known sex offender was placed with a family with two children.

Last night, the authority said the position of Phil Evans as its director of social services is not currently threatened.

A council inquiry in relation to other members of staff involved in the placement is ongoing.

It has been confirmed social services staff knew of the teenager’s past history when they placed him with the family, something Mr Evans described as a “serious error of judgement”.

The results of the inquiry are expected to be made public within two months, but Vale MP John Smith last night said he had “little confidence” in its outcome.

Last November the authority’s social services department was heavily criticised by the public services department ombudsman over their handling of an unrelated case involving a vulnerable adult.

Mr Smith said: “I am appalled by this latest shocking case which closely follows the previous damning report.

“The foster family and their children have been severely let down by the Vale council.

“Because of the serious flaws exposed by this case, I believe that an immediate independent review of the Vale’s social services procedures should be carried out.”

The Welsh Assembly Government has said it will consider its own investigation if necessary.

Last night, Ms Thomas said: “I am concerned to hear about these events. CSSIW will consider what action is necessary in the light of the management review that is being conducted.”

A Vale spokesperson said last night: “The council wishes to reassure the MP [Mr Smith] publicly that it has anticipated the need for the safeguards he is proposing.

“We initiated contact with both the Care Council for Wales and the CSSIW as soon as we became aware of the incidents.

“The parents of the children have also agreed to take an active role in helping the council to find out what went wrong.”