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Scrutiny committee considers annual social services report

The Corporate Overview and Scrutiny committee of Bridgend County Borough Council met earlier this week (Monday 5 September) to consider the annual report from the director of social services.

The report, which covers the period 2021 – 2022, summarises the department’s progress over the past year in the face of numerous challenges and pressures, and highlights areas where it has done well or where improvements can be made.

With good local and regional relationships in place between the council and partners such as the NHS, South Wales Police, probation service and care providers, the report highlights the strong history of the authority’s integrated services for older people, the range of mental health and learning disability services that are available, and how a clear strategic plan is in place for delivering improvements within children’s social care.

It discusses how building positive relationships with social care providers has proven to be a source of strength throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and reveals how the department has actively involved local people in designing the services that they receive, especially in areas such as learning disabilities, the BING carers network and children in care.

The report confirms that, like many UK councils seeking to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, the council has faced financial challenges, increased demand for services and problems in recruiting and keeping staff over the last year – a particularly significant issue that all councils are facing.

It outlines how the department has taken action to improve its workforce planning, including short term measures such as using interim or agency staff as well as longer term solutions ranging from increased international recruitment to a new ‘grow your own’ approach which seeks to provide existing staff with greater support and encourage them to flourish.

The report also recognises that additional scrutiny and recovery work is required following a performance evaluation inspection of children’s social care by the Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW), and outlines how the council and its partners have pledged to embed the outcomes of Child Practice Reviews.

A mass focus on delivering improvements in services for children has seen extra workforce deployed to provide help and support, and with fresh investment into in-house care homes and the launch of Tir Mor – a facility for young adults aged over 18 – alongside safeguarding and early help hubs, the report demonstrates how this has reduced the number of children and young people in care, improved the stability of existing placements, and is delivering improved outcomes.

In adult social care, the report describes how high levels of staff absence during the pandemic and fewer hours of care provided by the private sector has seen the council experiencing difficulties in meeting care and support needs. Work is underway alongside the NHS to address these issues, and to continue to integrate health and social care services.

Waiting times have been drastically reduced through initiatives such as community occupational therapy, which is designed to help keep people independent at home for longer, and adult safeguarding remains effective. Waiting times have also been cut for ‘deprivation of liberty’ safeguards, while a new, co-produced plan is ensuring that learning disability services continue to be driven by the voice of people with support needs.

The report further notes that the council has been progressing action points identified by an assurance check which was carried out in 2021 by CIW, and that this has included setting up groups to support workforce recruitment and retention, the provision of specialist behavioural support to the parents and carers of disabled children, and reducing the waiting lists for occupational therapy assessments.

The inspection of children’s services by CIW in May 2022 highlighted a number of strengths as well as areas for improvement which led the inspectorate to express their serious concerns. These included efforts to ensure that children’s voices are heard, the improvement of in-house residential services, maintaining positive relationships with partners and the launch of new practice development plans.

The report reveals that an action plan has been developed to address these issues and deliver improvements in areas such as the timeliness of documents, the availability of in-house foster care placements and the consistency of practice and timeliness of assessments, and progress will be reported back to CIW.

The Corporate Overview and Scrutiny committee’s comments and recommendations will now go forward to a forthcoming meeting of Cabinet where they will be considered alongside the report.

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