Children’s services at Cardiff council hit by under-staffing, says inquiry report

Children’s services staff at Wales’ biggest council had more than double the caseload social workers should have been taking on, a damning report has found.

According to the report into children’s services at Cardiff council, some social workers had up to 40 cases to deal with – with the advised number around 15 and 20 cases.

The council’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee investigated the state of children’s services in the capital following leaked documents last year which warned that staff were so overwhelmed with work they feared it could result in a child’s death.

A task and finish inquiry established by the committee after the shock documents’ publication called for the service to be “fully resourced with permanent staff as swiftly as possible”.

In its strongly-worded report, the committee recommends that social workers have a caseload of no more than 20 and says that an extra eight social services staff should be appointed.

The department’s interim manager described the performance of Cardiff’s children’s services as “unacceptable” to councillors.

The report said: “The task group members felt that there was significant disparity between the reports presented by management to committee with those of the interim director (people) and front line social workers and the service manager about the management of intake and assessment. The workload of the intake and assessment team is excessive, with some social workers having up to 40 cases.

“Members were informed that a number of social workers were holding a high number of de-allocated cases which needed to be closed, but which could not be closed due to the pressures resulting from a high number of referrals. Members considered that these cases added to the stress of staff and should be closed as soon as possible.”

It said the current intake and assessment process used in Cardiff should be “reviewed to reduce the administrative work undertaken by social workers, and to enable them to focus on the protection of children”.

The group also found that the children’s services duty team was also overstretched.

Its report said: “Advice received from all witnesses identified that the duty desk should be fully staffed with experienced social workers. Currently, the duty desk is severely under-resourced with only two members of staff, and their attention was frequently diverted to non social care calls – as calls are not vetted.”

Councillors said the “provision of appropriate services and support they need is a fundamental and over-riding priority for the council”.

The report said: “The executive should demonstrate this to be so by ensuring the children’s services budget for 2012-13 is provided with all the necessary resources it requires to meet the needs of the service and the protection of children and young people.

“Specifically, the executive should support the children’s services’ financial pressures bid for the council’s 2012-13 budget round for the additional eight posts.”

Committee member and Labour councillor Ralph Cook said it was important that staffing levels were improved and maintained to ensure vulnerable children have the access to services they need.

He said: “The council is appointing eight social workers and everything the council is now doing is as a result of the leaked memos.”

Mr Cook said the council should make children’s services its central priority and ensure funding for it.

Kirsty Davies, Cardiff council’s executive member for health, social care and wellbeing, said: “Our commitment to responding to the needs of vulnerable children, and also to supporting staff and recognising the challenges and pressures they can face when doing their jobs remains mine and the council’s main focus.”