COVID-19 and its consequences is causing massive fluctuations of demand on Powys County Council Children’s Services, according to senior staff.
At the Health and Care scrutiny committee meeting on Wednesday, May 26 councillors went through the quarterly report for Children’s Social Services that covered January to the end of March.
During that time which coincided with the latest covid lockdown in Wales, the service had failed to hit the target of completing 90 per cent of children’s assessments within statutory timescales.
The figures for assessments were: 63 per cent for January, 72 per cent for February and 83 per cent for March.
Children’s Services portfolio holder, Cllr Rachel Powell urged councillors to “look underneath” the data to find out why these targets had not been met.
Head of Children’s Services, Jan Coles said: “I think overall the performance is really good, the service has been working under extreme circumstances.”
On assessments Ms Cole explained that during the pandemic, there had not been any pattern to demand, it had been “random.”
She explained that in February, 57 assessments were opened, but in March this had shot up to 103 with the same number of staff and only one manager to sign off the work.
Urgent assessments where child protection is paramount come on top of this workload explained Ms Cole, and at times, social workers need to “drop” everything to do this.
She told councillors that at one point, every single social worker in the assessment team was out working on child protection investigations, something she hadn’t witnessed before in her career.
Cllr Roger Williams asked if a trend in demand had been found?
Ms Coles said: “The one trend we have been able to pick up is: following a lockdown when children go back to school, when services are back in touch with families, we do get an increase in demand and up-tick on the numbers of children on the child protection list and coming in to care.”
“We don’t have a huge waiting list of children waiting for a call or a visit from a social worker, we are responding and doing the work with the families.”
Extra resources including three members of staff had been put into support improving assessment figures, which Ms Coles said, “will be our main focus.”
Cllr Liz Rijnenberg said: “I get the sense there’s a potential of stress, do you feel you have enough management support for staff, so that the social worker on the ground doesn’t feel that everything rests on their shoulders?”
Ms Coles replied: “It’s incredibly tough, and people have additional challenges in their life, we have tried to focus on the well-being of the workforce.
Ms Coles said that quarterly “roadshows” were held, at these sessions all staff could ask questions to her and other senior managers and find out what was going on in different parts of the department.
They also had weekly mindfulness, choir sessions and a virtual tearoom to help staff morale.
“There is no doubt, 15 months in, this is taking its toll and we need to be flexible and support our staff, said Ms Coles.