CHILDREN and young people at risk of being taken into care are being supported to stay with their families in a Gwent borough, a review has found.
Councils are able to organise meetings with families ahead of legal proceedings, where a court could order children are taken into care, known as a Public Law Outline Meetings.
The meetings are sometimes referred to as a last chance for parents to make improvements before care proceedings start.
The Care Inspectorate Wales reviewed social care records, and spoke with staff, during a two day review of Torfaen Borough Council’s children’s services department in January, and found it is committed to supporting children and young people to remain with their families where it is safe for them to do so.
It said this was backed up by Cafcass Cymru, the agency that ensures children’s views are heard in care proceedings.
Steps taken by Torfaen include “extensive support” and opportunities for parents to make “effective” changes before the council takes further legal action, “even where the legal threshold for intervention has been reached”.
Inspectors said they saw evidence of “timely decision making” to take children into care, as well as examples where parents had made changes so that pre-proceedings could be “stepped down” and families “diverted out” of the process “with several children experiencing a significant reduction of risk with no further need of protection through legal means”.
The review has made a number of recommendations for improvement but the inspectors said they saw “an established culture of not issuing proceedings unless other avenues had been explored”.
An overhaul of children’s services in recent years, and the council’s commitment to early intervention, has also led to a gradual reduction in the number of children who are looked after.
Among the issues of concern raised was the turnover in social workers and the council’s continued use of agency staff which meant sometimes professionals, other than social workers, such as a family support worker, have had to visit children. But the inspectors said they are known to the children who are visited when alone.
Lou Bushell-Bauers, head of local authority inspection, said in her letter to Torfaen’s social services chief, Jason O’Brien: “On occasion we saw that the continuity of relationships with children and families had been inhibited by a change in their lead practitioner. We heard from one parent about how their experience had varied due to the quality of relationships they had with each of the allocated social workers, although they told us that the situation had improved with the current social worker.”
The council’s intention to train its own staff in response to recruitment challenges was also noted by the inspectors who said newly qualified social workers will need the support of experienced colleagues “to feel confident when working with families in the PLO pre-proceedings/court arena”.
It was also clear that “children and young people are actively involved in their assessments and plans” but the inspectors said they didn’t see evidence of documents being “routinely shared” with children and families and raised concern that in sibling groups individual children could sometimes be overlooked.
The council was told to improve how children can achieve their well-being outcomes and that paper work properly records the children’s views. A lack of sufficient placements for children was also noted, though in the records reviewed children were “in suitable placements that met their needs or were being supported to remain safely within their family network”.
Training for other agencies involved in the process could also be improved, said the inspectors, and the council has identified a “general lack of documentation and information for children and young people about services and support” as an area for improvement.
It was also noted the council should improve its written records throughout the process and highlighted how a delay in sending minutes out of a meeting, where a parent chose not to have legal representation, as “unfortunate” warning it could limit their understanding of a “complex situation where a number of partner agencies were involved”.
The Care Inspectorate, which has reviewed three other local authorities, is due to issue a national report this spring.