Inquiry likely into fears child could die due to social workers’ ‘unmanageable’ workloads

An inquiry looks certain to be held into revelations Cardiff council social workers fear a child could die because of staff shortages and overwhelming workloads.

The inquiry will next week be ordered as a matter of urgency and could be held as early as the end of this month.

Councillors on the authority’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee will take evidence from frontline social workers and their managers.

It’s anticipated the task and finish group will report back with its findings and recommendations by the end of the year or early in the New Year.

A meeting of the committee to discuss the inquiry was called within hours of our revelations that social workers fear “unmanageable” caseloads could result in a child’s death.

Leaked documents showed staff in the council’s children’s services Intake and Assessment (I&A) Team are suffering “stress”, “very low morale” and feel senior managers haven’t taken on board their concerns.

Councillor Bill Kelloway, committee chairman, said: “We have been aware that there have been recruitment and retention issues. We receive a number of reports during the year and we always ask the question about whether it compromises the safety of children and we always receive assurances that it has not.

“Obviously we were not aware of the views of some of the employees. We would like to speak to them directly, as well as their trade unions.”

The I&A team assess the needs of the city’s most vulnerable children, including those in danger of abuse or families in need of extra support.

The revelations were made in the leaked minutes of a meeting, held in September, between 16 social workers and social work assistants.

In one case, a social worker was dealing with 49 cases at one time – more than three times the number of cases normally recommended. Newly qualified staff have between 29 and 35 cases and one social worker who has only been qualified for a year has a caseload of 39, according to the minutes.

Recommendations brought in following the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie in London 11 years ago state workers should have 10 to 15 cases.

Cardiff staff felt the high caseloads, lack of supervision and training, and “hostility” between teams lead to “dangerous practice” and fears “about having a child death on their caseload”.

The minutes also claim the situation had “deteriorated” since staff raised concerns in a letter – dated from February – sent to senior managers.

Coun Kelloway, Penylan’s Liberal Democrat councillor, said it was well known that child welfare referrals had increased since the case of Baby P, the 17-month-old who died in London four years ago after suffering more than 50 injuries.

Councils, he said, were also struggling to attract qualified social workers as agencies tended to pay higher wages.

“At the moment, a group of employees have had a meeting and expressed a view that has been recorded in minutes and is now in the public realm,” Coun Kelloway said.

“It’s a point of view that should be of concern to anybody who reads that, but there may be another point of view.

“If the concerns that are expressed by the social workers have foundation to them then they are raising matters that require urgent attention.”

Catriona Williams, chief executive of Children in Wales, the national umbrella children’s organisation, said she was “genuinely concerned” about the overall increasing demands on children’s social services departments.

“We are very aware that the larger the number of the caseload the less time that is spent with each of the cases and therefore there is a limit to what can be achieved. Matching need to resources should be constantly under review,” she said.

“It is critical that there is a collaborative approach within the council to get the best services for children and this does require openness between all parts of the service delivering support and protection to the children.”

The council has insisted the concerns had been treated seriously and were being addressed.

A spokeswoman said the authority had seen an increase in child protection and children in need referrals, in line with the national trend. She said changes had been made to how work was distributed and dealt with to ease workloads.