Social Care Week raises questions on the future

Gwenda Thomas is full of praise for the undervalued and unsung role of social care workers in Wales

Last week saw the third annual Social Care Week in Wales – a uniquely Welsh event, to celebrate the excellent work of the social care workforce and to recognise the value of social services provision to the people of Wales.

Over the last 10 years, social services in Wales have been on an evolving journey with considerable improvement in performance. Services must continue to strive for excellence and the process of improvement is continuous.

We must remember that each and every day social services staff across Wales, provide care, support and protection to some of the most vulnerable people in our society, both young and old. All too often this work goes unnoticed or is undervalued.

Sadly it is only when things go wrong that the work of social services and social workers hits the headlines. It is all too easy for the media, social commentators and sometimes even politicians to criticise and blame social workers.

While I know there have been a number of cases recently that have caused public concern and anger, these cases, are extremely rare when set against the number of people social services support.

However, we must learn from every case when things have gone wrong to reduce the risk of it happening again. I have made clear to local authorities that I will not accept failings and where I believe that social services are not safeguarding people in need I will take action. I have unfortunately had to do this since becoming Deputy Minister but if we are to improve services, this must be done.

As someone with a background in the public sector and whose role it is to provide political leadership for social services in local government, I recognise the important contribution of social services.

During Social Care Week in Wales, I attended two key events that set in motion improvements to the social care services.

At this year’s national social services conference, I announced the Welsh Assembly Government’s intention to establish an independent commission to look at how social services in Wales can meet the challenges of the next decade and build strong and effective services to meet people’s needs.

During the two-day conference, First Minister Rhodri Morgan also stressed the importance of social services departments and asked local authorities to consider more cross-border working, both within and between local authorities, with the National Health Service and other bodies.

He raised a number of important questions. How do we make sure we continue to recruit sufficient high calibre social work students to our university social work courses? How do we keep them motivated and enthusiastic once in post? How do we provide the right environment to encourage staff in child care services to stay on the front line and do so in an atmosphere of high morale, good job satisfaction, plentiful back-up and top notch professional leadership and councillor support in setting the strategy?

The new independent commission will help us find the answers to these questions.

I was also privileged to attend the Social Care Accolades – a prestigious event that plays a key role in celebrating good practice in the social care sector. People working in social care have to deal with probably the most difficult and challenging situations facing any worker – they are demanding but rewarding jobs that make a real difference to the lives of the people.

These “Oscars“ of the social care sector are a great opportunity to showcase the best of what is going on in our communities. I know from travelling throughout Wales, the importance that is placed on these awards by organisations and staff. It gives them a real boost and renewed confidence.

Some 14 organisations made it to the finals. Each one is a winner in their own right and everyone who took part should be extremely proud of what they have achieved. I wish to thank and congratulate each and everyone of them for making a difference to their communities.

But we must do more and know we have further work to do as we continue to transform social services to better meet the needs of the people of Wales.

Gwenda Thomas is Deputy Minister for Social Services