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Council 'failing city children'

3 March 09 17:31 GMT

There has been little improvement in social services for children in Swansea since a damning report two years ago, Welsh assembly members have been told.

Deputy minister Gwenda Thomas blamed senior councillors and officials and said she may declare they were failing in their duty to protect children.

It would be the first such order made against a council in Wales.

Swansea council said ensuring children were safe was a priority and it shared Ms Thomas's determination to improve.

Ms Thomas told AMs she intended creating an intervention board of external experts that would have the power to oversee the department and ensure it improved.

"I am aware of the fact that this is the first occasion when such an order might be issued in respect of a local authority in Wales but feel that the circumstances are such that I must give very serious consideration to doing so," she told AMs.

A review of children's social services in Swansea was carried out in March and April of 2007 by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales (CSSIW).

It found "serious concerns in core areas of service provision" and drew up an action plan with the council for improvements.

Ms Thomas, deputy minister for social services, said a further inspection was held in December 2008 and the results would be made public next month.

But she told AMs: "Since the 2007 inspection report and I have made clear my expectation that significant improvement in services was required and that 18 months should be sufficient for this to be achieved.

Considerable investment

"The findings of the recent inspection are disappointing. There have been some improvements. However, progress has been limited and patchy and, in the view of the CSSIW, children are still not being well served.

"I have concluded that the scale of improvement in Swansea has been insufficient, given the considerable investment of time and assistance the inspectorate has provided.

"Take that help away, and the risk is too great that the current position - highly unsatisfactory as it still is - will deteriorate further.

"I am not prepared for social services for children to fall and remain below acceptable standards, and consider (the council) has failed to make sufficient progress to tackle the issues identified."

She said she was considering making an order under section 84 of the Children Act 1989 declaring the council in default of certain of its functions in relation to the provision of children's social services.

A social worker was struck off in January for failing to follow child protection procedures in the case of Aaron Gilbert, the baby murdered by his mother's partner back in 2005. Today's developments are not linked to that case.

Vulnerable people

A council spokesman said: "Swansea Council's priority is to ensure that children are safe.

"Thanks to the commitment of our staff and the support of the CSSIW we have been able to start the improvements that need to occur and some progress has been achieved.

"The council recognises that resources are important and there is a commitment to maintain investment."

It said progress had been made on access to services, assessment, care management, and arrangements for vulnerable people - none of which were now ranked 'poor', as they were in 2007.

"We welcome the fact that the deputy minister has recognised the commitment of our staff and the improvements we have started," added the spokesman.

"However she wants to be more confident they are effectively embedded and long lasting.

"We share her determination and we recognise there is much more to do to sustain and develop the improvements."

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