Sweeping changes for Walsall children's services

A key report recommending sweeping changes to Walsall's under-fire children's services department today found workloads for social workers are too high and agency staff are used too frequently.

A working group tasked with overhauling the department says teams should be relocated and laptops issued to staff.

It comes after an improvement notice was served on Walsall Council by the Government. Ofsted had branded the local authority's safeguarding services, and its capacity to improve, as 'inadequate'.

A series of recommendations have been set out by the safeguarding working group, made up of councillors who gathered feedback from social workers.

Councillor Rose Martin, lead member of the group, said the changes would give staff the time and tools to do their jobs properly.

Concerns about the flexible working system, which allows staff to regain hours they have worked overtime, were also raised.

The system was amended in January. The number of days staff can take as flexi-holiday within three months was reduced from five days to two.

Recommendations have been made to analyse the amount of flexi-hours lost and reconsider alternative systems.

Significant concerns were raised about the council's computer system for social services, which was described as 'no longer fit for purpose'.

Guidelines for manageable caseload numbers are between 18 and 22, but some staff reported caseloads of more than 30.

The group also found the use of agency staff remained high, making up as much as 50 per cent of the workforce in some teams.

A report produced by the working group said: "The working group value individual contributions of agency staff and accept there will always be times when the use of agency staff is necessary, such as providing maternity/sickness cover.

"However the reliance of agency staff within Walsall is still too high."

Recommendations were made for work to be undertaken to better understand why agency workers were reluctant to take up permanent positions.

Councillor Martin said: "The most important thing is allowing the social workers time to look after our vulnerable children."

The report is to be discussed at a scrutiny and performance panel meeting tonight.

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