Hard-up city council to drop Assembly targets for needy children

Wales’ largest council is to abandon its aim to hit Assembly-set targets for dealing with vulnerable children as it seeks to cut soaring bills.

Cardiff council’s social services department has pledged that the most needy children will still be seen, if necessary, within hours, despite its budget pressures.

But the department is giving up on its chase to hit targets, such as the aim to see 80% of children referred to social services within seven days for an initial assessment.

Other targets include carrying out core assessments within 35 days.
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The department has previously been criticised for failing to hit targets and was monitored for four years by the Assembly Government from 2002 to 2006 after being heavily criticised by inspectors for the way it dealt with vulnerable children.

John Dixon, the city’s social services executive member, said the city’s children’s services team was committed to giving vulnerable children the support they needed.

But he said the continued rise in referrals, which hit the highest ever recorded between April and June this year, had forced the council’s hand.

The department is expected to exceed its budget by £2m this year and is currently only seeing 41% of needy children within the seven day target.

Coun Dixon said: “All council’s are facing the same pressures. There are always more referrals in an economic downturn as there is more concern about mental health of adults and more family breakdown.

“In terms of what we can do about it, there are limited options given the statutory nature of the work but there are some things we will be looking at in terms of how we manage the work.”

Maria Michael, the city’s head of children’s services, said: “For some referrals, it is clear that the needs of the child are acute and we will see them within hours.

“But with other cases, it may be that we say we are not going to aim for the 35 days for a core assessment, we are going to put them on a different timescale.”

She said that the council had to be responsible in the way that it used public money.

Social services teams across the UK have seen a rise in referrals since the Baby Peter scandal in Haringey, London, began to dominate news headlines two years ago.

Ms Michael said that this year they had seen a second rise in referrals but that, despite the rise, the percentage of referrals that needed action had remained the same.

The city is working with other councils to recruit new foster carers, the shortage of which has caused significant costs, and will open a replacement for the John Kane children’s home in Thornhill in January next year.

Mark Stephens, the city’s executive member for finance, said that despite the projected overspend of £2m in children’s services the council as a whole was projecting only an overspend of £500,000 for the year and expected to be able to plug the gap by the end of the year.