OVERHAUL KEEPING KIDS SAFE; A Year Ago Cardiff Council's Children's Services Department Was in Turmoil with Its Social Workers Saying They Were Overwhelmed by Their Workload. One Year on, Peter Law Asks What Has Changed
NICK Jarman keeps a copy of the South Wales Echo from November 4, 2011, on his desk at County Hall.
The front page headline reads: "We all fear a child will die on our watch."
Mr Jarman was just a few days into his new job as Cardiff council's interim corporate director for people when the Echo reported on the fears of Cardiff's social workers.
Our report was based on the leaked minutes of a meeting of the Intake and Assessment (I&A) team - who are at the frontline, assessing the help vulnerable children require. It showed staff had far too many cases, suffered stress and exhaustion, felt ignored by management and feared it could lead to dangerous practice and a child death.
Given the nature of the concerns, the response was swift. A cross-party inquiry was announced the next day and a few weeks later PS250,000 was found to hire eight more social workers. At the time, the council insisted the money was not a direct result of the leak.
Just over a year on from the expose, the Echo caught up with Mr Jarman - and the new cabinet member for children's services Richard Cook - to find out what has changed.
Mr Jarman immediately points to a series of traffic light-style reports on the backlog of cases faced by the department.
January's report is a mix of red and orange - showing a 12-14-week backlog - while September's is a sea of green. It showed the number of outstanding initial assessments had dropped from 62 to three and outstanding core assessments had fallen from 114 to five.
"The point about this is that they are doing today's work today. If a referral comes in it is dealt with straight away and if a case comes in we are getting out to see people straight away," Mr Jarman said.
Confident the problems in I&A could be solved in seven months, Mr Jarman said it was achieved in six. Cardiff's performance is now comparable with the best local authorities in the UK, such as Barnet, Buckinghamshire and Hampshire, he adds.
This, Mr Jarman said, was done through the cash injection and better management.
"I said (at the time) that it was dangerous. It was my first week and I could see straight away from experience what was wrong," he said. "I spoke to the workers and said 'I'm not going to argue with you - you are right, there are not enough workers'."
The leaked minutes revealed one worker was dealing with 49 cases. Following a sizing exercise, this has now dropped to a ratio of 15 cases for each employee.
He also introduced a clearer way of presenting case statistics - the traffic light reports - and admitted: "It's not rocket science, but it works."
Audits of cases showed the outcomes for children are better, but there is still room for improvement, he said, especially in the relationship between social workers and schools.
Financial and resource pressures on children's services have not disappeared either. Coun Cook - who took over the portfolio when Labour triumphed at May's local elections - said the department was projected to have an overspend of PS1.4m against its PS43m budget this year.
One of the main reasons was the closure of Thornhill Road Children's Home, in Rhiwbina, late last year. The PS2m home was shut down just seven months after its opening following a damning Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales report.
The children have since been rehomed outside of Cardiff, with each child costing PS40,000 a year. The council is now recruiting staff with a view to reopening the home "as quickly as possible", Coun Cook said.
A report to Cabinet next week will also recommend the feasibility of social impact bonds (SIBs) is investigated to fund foster placements.
The new scheme could see philanthropists and charitable trusts fund foster placements. If the placements are successful, the individual or organisation would get a return on their investment. …