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Health Politics Swansea West Wales

Council goes on recruitment drive after inspectors visit two children’s care homes

SWANSEA Council is aiming to reduce its use of agency care workers after Welsh Government inspectors said young people at its residential homes were not getting a consistent level of care.

The council runs two young people’s residential homes and has recently recruited nine care staff, a manager and two assistant managers.

It followed inspections by Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW), which said children at both homes – Ty Nant and Heol Tir Du – received care from a high number of workers and that this did not “promote consistency”.

CIW highlighted this as an area for improvement, meaning the council needed to take action. Three further areas of improvement were flagged up for Ty Nant: its approach to standards of care and support did not consistently support children to progress and achieve personal outcomes; its “statement of purpose” and behaviour policy did not reflect the current model of care; and assessments had not been reviewed in accordance with regulation.

“Some children’s well-being outcomes (at Ty Nant) are not maximised and their care and support needs improvement,” said CIW’s report.

It added that the home was safe and organised, with sufficient resources to meet the needs of children.Inspectors said Heol Tir Du was welcoming and well-maintained, and that the young people looked after there were comfortable, happy and listened to.

Chris Griffiths, the council’s principal officer for residential services, said the nine new care workers would make staffing at both homes more robust although it was aiming to recruit a further six.

Addressing a councillor scrutiny panel, Mr Griffiths said recruiting staff for children’s residential homes was “an issue right across Wales” but he added that good progress was being made in addressing the areas of improvement cited by CIW.

He said young people looked after at Ty Nant had often had “adverse childhood experiences” and that the home tried to adapt its methods in response.

Cllr Paxton Hood-Williams, the panel’s convenor, asked if there were enough residential places for looked-after young people in Swansea.

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Julie Davies, head of child and family services, said the short answer was no. “So we are still using residential homes which are outside of Swansea, which is not ideal,” she said.

Ms Davies added that a shortage of foster carers also put pressure on children’s residential home places. One option, she said, was to place young people in expensive privately-run children’s residential homes. Ms Davies said some privately-run homes “potentially see the opportunity to make additional profits” before planned legislation which would eradicate profit-making in children’s care in Wales came into force. “That’s an ongoing conundrum and dilemma all local authorities have in Wales,” she said.

Ms Davies said she didn’t think the council would ever be able to provide the full breadth of specialist support that children in residential homes needed, and that it was good to have a “mixed economy”. She added that the council was looking to increase its number of in-house children’s residential homes.

More than 80% of young people’s residential homes in Wales are operated by the private sector, according to a report in May by a group called the Wales Centre for Public Policy. Researchers from the group interviewed experts in young people’s care and said there was a consensus that the elimination of profit would not adequately address the issues around sufficiency of places and quality of care.

The report also said the current market allowed profit-making organisations to dictate pricing, and that they had a financial incentive to operate in areas where property was cheap rather than where there was a need.

It added that some interviewees felt profit wasn’t a problem in of itself. “They noted that there is a distinction between small independent organisations extracting a small profit, and providers owned by private equity funds which extract excessive profit,” it said.

All interviewees, added the report,  raised concerns about the potential for short and medium-term risks to the stability of the sector if profit was eliminated, with potentially harmful consequences for children and young people in care.