Councils unhappy at new model for child protection

The Welsh government and councils are at loggerheads over how to safeguard vulnerable children and adults, BBC Wales has learned.

Plans to bring in six new regional boards to deal with both children and adults have already been unveiled.

But all 22 local authorities have jointly asked Social Services Minister Gwenda Thomas for eight or nine boards.

The Welsh government said Ms Thomas has considered a "range of evidence" in developing the proposals.

Opposition parties say they are deeply concerned about such a fundamental difference in an extremely sensitive area of policy.

The Welsh government and the body representing councils are due to meet in Cardiff Bay later on Monday.

The radical overhaul is in response to the scrapping of the 22 local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs), which have faced heavy criticism in the past.

In their letter to Gwenda Thomas, the councils say: "We remain unconvinced that proposals to introduce regional safeguarding boards on the local health board (LHB) footprint will provide effective safeguards in terms of safe and effective practice.

'Preferred option'

"In our view safeguarding structures should be determined by the need to achieve better outcomes and we are not convinced at this stage of the case for six boards."

Its preferred option is for eight or nine boards, which would take into account the larger areas and higher populations covered by some LHBs.

And they also warn that having single boards responsible for both vulnerable adults and children is a mistake.

In October, Ms Thomas announced she was to merge the current LSCBs into six new safeguarding and protection boards covering both children and adults.

It would mean that for the first time, there will be statutory bodies charged with protecting vulnerable adults, replacing the current non-statutory adult protection committees.

However, the opposition from councils, who have responsibility for implementing the new system, casts doubt on whether it will be practical for the government to force councils into adopting it.

A Welsh government spokesman said: "The deputy minister has made clear her intention to bring forward a Social Services (Wales) Bill in 2012 to deliver a coherent Welsh framework and the consultation on the bill in the New Year will include measures related to safeguarding and protection."

The spokesman said it would include reducing the number of local safeguarding children boards to six, and establishing adult protection boards on the same basis.

'A step too far'

"In developing these proposals, the deputy minister has considered a range of evidence to which local government partners have contributed to including the Independent Commission on Social Services, and the report of the Welsh Safeguarding Children Forum," added the spokesman.

Aled Roberts, Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesman on children said: "These proposals go a step too far, too fast.

"The protection of vulnerable children and adults is absolutely paramount and I do not believe that reducing the number of safeguarding boards across Wales will lead to a better and more efficient service.

"I am also concerned that these plans include combining adult and child protection under one board as there are substantial differences in the policy and legal framework relating to adult and child protection.

"While I support greater collaboration between local authorities, I urge the Welsh government to listen and work with them so that we can deliver a service that protects our most vulnerable."

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