Children's social services in Wrecsam is underfunded and putting an unacceptable burden on workers in the frontline, says a leading councillor.
Plaid Cymru Councillor and Lead Member for Children and Young People on wrecsam Council Arfon Jones has expressed his concern over the historical underfunding for Childrens social services and how increased awareness of child protection after the death of Baby P has led to a massively increased demand on the department. Cllr Jones said:
"This has led to social workers carrying a very heavy workload. The situation has been made worse by the requirement to make 3% efficiency savings on a 9.6 million budget, which equates to 300,000 at a time when there was nearly a 1 million overspend at the end of the last financial year.
Much of this budget overspend is as a result of placing the most needy or challenging looked-after children in expensive private sector placements outside the area. A great deal of work is currently ongoing to bring these children back within the authority but costs are still spiralling. One child in such a placement can cost up to 200,000 a year with 24-hour care.
Cllr Jones said:
Childrens social services in Wrecsam have historically been underfunded compared to other authorities in Wales. For example Carmarthenshire, which has a similar structure to wrecsam spent 415 per child last year compared to Wrecsams 322 per head. If Wrecsam spent 415 per child that would mean the Childrens social services budget should be 12.5 million, which is 3 million more than it is at present."
The largest part of a Childrens social services budget goes towards looking after children taken into care and there has been an increase of 120% of children taken into care in the second quarter of this year compared to the second quarter of last year. The number of children whose names have been included on the Child Protection Register has increased by 34% and the number of referrals by other agencies to Social Services has increased by 20%. Whilst Wrecsam had 426 child in need cases open last year this had increased to 605 by the same date this year.
Cllr Jones added:
Social workers in Wrecsam are doing excellent work under a difficult situation and this is acknowledged by the Inspectorate, but we cannot expect them to constantly meet the increasing demands without additional staff and resources. All social workers have a recommended workload and many of them carry a much higher workload and this is having an impact on the timeliness of intervention.
Wrecsam Council have approved a Recovery Board to look for savings. Cllr Jones, who sits on this Project Board, said:
It's proving very difficult to find savings in a budget that was nearly a million pounds overspent last year, the priority is to try not to impact on front line services and even then it's difficult with some senior councillors not buying in to the process.
"What is needed is an appropriate budget settlement. Failure to do this will send the wrong message out, a message that Wrecsam doesnt see the protection of our children as a priority.