WALES – Social services are on the right track make a difference

More than three children a day sexually assaulted in Wales

Jake Morgan explains the challenges facing children’s social services in Wales

CHANGE can often seem like a way of life in children’s services – as the head of children’s services in Carmarthenshire for the past six years and the chair of the all-Wales heads of children’s services, I cannot remember a period where there has been such a volume of change in children’s social services.

Fortunately, a very positive element of much of the current change is there is such a collective desire to improve and develop services both nationally and locally across Wales.

There is a growing consensus on a need to develop and change the role of social workers. We need to take them out of the office and increase the time they spend with children and their families.

In a desire to make services safer, guidance and regulation has too often been overly prescriptive.

While this approach has improved consistency across Wales, an unintended consequence has been the de-skilling of our workforce.

Effective child protection requires a high level of skills from our social workers, fine judgement and an acceptance of the inherent uncertainty which exist within this type of work.

No amount of prescription or forms can eradicate risk or uncertainty entirely.

As Professor Eileen Munroe recently reported in her recommendation to the UK Government, the desire to eradicate risk has “created a defensive system that puts so much emphasis on procedures and recording that insufficient attention is given to developing and supporting the expertise to work with children, young people and families”.

At the last count children’s services report more than 50 national performance indicators and have many thousands of pages of guidance and procedures. This is an overload on practitioners and, at worst, can divert resources from the frontline.

Fortunately, in Wales we are increasingly leading the way to address these issues. It is an area local government, policymakers and professionals are working together on to create a framework of performance indicators which capture user experience rather than measuring timescales, compliance and the completion of forms.

Indicators should more accurately inform the public about the quality of services they pay for rather than the processes social workers comply with.

Neath Port Talbot has led the way in this area with a fundamental review to improve service-user experience.

A new national career development framework for social workers in Wales has been developed by the Care Council for Wales.

This is still out for consultation but it will provide a vital framework for the career development of social workers. It will allow the very best practitioners to progress their careers without becoming a manager through the development of consultant social worker grades.

I’m confident the profession will welcome this wholeheartedly and will enable the very best people to come into and stay in front line practice.

Collaboration between authorities is a vital component of continued improvement of children’s services.

With an exciting agenda of change in the development of a national adoption service, and with some authorities sharing senior managers between each other, this sharing of expertise and the subsequent critical mass this produces is a vital component of our journey of continuous improvement in children’s services across Wales.

The signs are that Wales is on the right track to really make a difference and build on the considerable good practice that already exists across Wales.

Jake Morgan is chairman of the all-Wales heads of children’s services for ADSS Cymru

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