Concern over social worker caseloads in Wales

Child actor Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Social workers are worried things could be missed

A warning that some social workers in Wales have workloads which are too high has been raised by unions.

They are worried mistakes could be made with vulnerable adults and children resulting in a situation like Baby P.

Toddler Peter Connelly died in north London in 2007, after suffering more than 50 injuries. A report found he was "failed by all agencies".

Some staff in Wales have 43 child cases to deal with, which Unison said is double the recommended number.

Concern has also been raised over the "relentless" cutting of social work budgets.

Councils said there was a real need for government "at all levels" to ensure the system can meet demand.

The figures, which were obtained by BBC Wales, were described by the British Social Workers' Association (BASW) as "worrying".

BBC Wales asked each council about social workers who had been allocated the most cases - and what their caseloads were.

This included cases classed as being "on review" which may not need constant attention.

One social worker in Ceredigion had 29 cases, while another in Conwy had 144.

Conwy council said the 144 cases were adults and many did not require checking more than once a year.

When asked specifically about child social work, seen by some as more complex cases, numbers ranged from 22 in Newport to 43 in Merthyr Tydfil and Gwynedd.

Robin Moulster, from BASW said: "I don't think I could guarantee with those sort of numbers that there couldn't be another big public inquiry.

"This may appear a bit overdramatic but I think sometimes it's a bit like 'there for the grace of God' that we haven't got another Baby P situation."

Mr Moulster said it should not have to wait until councils are put into special measures for issues to be addressed.

He said he had heard of some councils with newly-qualified social workers given large caseloads "in very high pressured areas of work".

"There is a risk things can get missed and serious situations can happen," he added.

Dominic MacAskill, head of local government for Unison, said there were some worrying signs.

"It's possible perhaps to retain a fairly large caseload and juggle things around a bit, but juggling is not appropriate in this type of profession," he said.

Concern about the impact of "relentless" budget cutting was raised by Gwen Carrington from the Association of Directors of Social Services in Wales.

"We are very mindful that social care isn't being protected in the way that health is," she said.

"We are often treating the same people as the health service, but our budgets are not protected.

"Given the scare resources, are we doing the right things with our money? The question is how sustainable is it in future?" she added.

The Welsh Local Government Association said budget cuts, rising demand and increasingly complex legislation would place "a significant amount of strain on local social care services over the coming years.

"There is a very real need for government at all levels in Wales to continue to work closely with professional social care bodies to ensure Wales' social care system can meet current demand," said a spokesman.

The Welsh government said it was investing an additional £10m in local government funding in "recognition of increasing demand for social services" and taking other steps with its Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act to help reduce pressure on services.

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