Record referrals pressure social work

Cardiff Council’s social care department is facing its biggest pressures yet following a surge in the number of children’s cases being referred to the authority.

Council officials said the cause for the sharp increase in referred cases was unclear, but the department was feeling a huge strain to deal with the number cases which are also increasingly complex.

In a report prepared for the children and young people scrutiny committee, councillors were told in the first quarter of the financial year (April to June 2010) the number of referrals to the service was the highest ever recorded – 1,111 cases – meaning the department now has a projected overspend of £2m against this year’s budget.

Children are referred to Cardiff Council from a number of agencies and other public bodies – including health, education, police, social workers, family members and voluntary organisations. The case then goes through an assessment process, and the council decides which services are needed – an initial decision is usually made within 24 hours – and the number of cases assessed in the last quarter also rose by 10 per cent.

In the same quarter last year, the number of referrals to the council was 939 and 746 in 2008/2009. The budget allocation for this financial year was based on a downward trend in the last three quarters of 2009/2010.

With an increase in the referrals workload for the council, statutory targets have been falling short.

Maria Michael, chief children’s services officer at Cardiff Council, said:”This is the highest level of referrals we’ve had since this system of recording was set up.”

Causes unclear but links to Baby P interest

Executive member for social care, wellbeing and health, John Dixon, said the exact reasons for the increase in referrals of cases to the council were unclear, but could be linked to an increased awareness of social services and child risks following the case of Baby P at Haringey council in London. He said:”It looked like the affect of Baby P had gone, but the increase is not unique to Cardiff, and now there has been a peak in the last quarter. The case is still in the public eye.

“We’re still dealing with every case in the 24 hours before a decision is made on whether to protect.”

Dixon said he also felt with financial pressures on other authorities more cases were being handed over to the council – and they are yet to find out if these cases were all legitimate referrals or not. He said:

“The economic downturn has reduced public funding and we have a statutory responsibility for this so it’s easier if there is a concern to refer the child to someone else.

“There are more and more demands on their time just like anyone else, so it’s easy to say because the council does it anyway let’s just hand it in.”

Michael added:”We might find all the referrals should have come anyway.

“But the need for disabled children’s services has grown because more children now are surviving than would have survived previously, which is a very good thing but we need to respond to that.”

Another part of the increased pressure on the authority is the higher levels of complexity of the cases the council is dealing with.

Michael said:”We’ve had referrals of very complex circumstances. This is putting a lot of pressure on the children’s services staff. But we’re not just overspending – we’re spending the money to fulfil our statutory duties.”

Council officials said they were recruiting high level social workers to cope with the new level of complexities as well as new graduates taken in over the summer period. A new children’s home is also being built in Thornhill to deal with the more complex cases – the first of its kind in Cardiff – and will be ready to open in January 2011.

The new £16m facility in Caerau is also soon to open. Ty Gwyn Special School was completed and officially handed over to the council this summer, with places for up to 150 children. The council is also looking to focus on supporting families with parenting courses to strengthen skills to prevent a child being taken into social care.

Dixon said despite the overspend the extra £2m would not be found by cuts to social services, but by a squeeze on the council across the board.