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Council aims to phase out profit-making children’s residential homes by 2026

16 Jun 2024 4 minute read
Photo Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Richard Youle, local democracy reporter

The use of agency children’s social workers and profit-making children’s residential homes is being phased out in Carmarthenshire.

Council chiefs hope that by March 2026 they won’t need private children’s residential homes any more and that agency social workers won’t be required from March the following year.

Jan Coles, head of the council’s children and families service, told a scrutiny committee she was confident of meeting the 2027 agency social worker target but less so in respect of residential homes.

Councils often have to spend a lot of money on agency social workers to fill workforce gaps while the Welsh Government has published a bill which, if passed by Senedd members, would end profit-making in children’s care in Wales.

Trainee social workers

Ms Coles told councillors at a meeting on June 13 that the authority has been increasing the number of trainee social workers it puts through an 18-month programme but that it hadn’t been enough to fill staffing gaps.

She said around six qualified social workers were due to start over the summer with more trainees due to qualify and start work in summer 2026. “That will be a big boost to the teams,” she said. “We will be phasing out agency workers as we bring these workers in.”

Ms Coles said the council paid trainees’ university fees during the 18-month programme and also a support worker’s salary. Trainees are attached to a particular team and carry out two long placements and one short one before they qualify.

“We want to make sure we attract the best candidates,” said Ms Coles, adding that there was now a trainee waiting list.

Ms Coles said newly-qualified social workers couldn’t do all types of work to start with with the first year geared towards developing skills.

She said one potential obstacle was that the council wouldn’t be able to recruit “the right experienced people” as well as the newly-qualified staff. “We are not sure what impact that will have,” she said.

The report before the health and social services scrutiny committee said 14 additional social worker traineeships were being created as part of the plan to phase out agency workers and that pay for newly-qualified and experienced social workers at the council was among top 20% in Wales.

Ms Coles said there had been at least one external candidate for the “dozens and dozens” of social worker vacancies in recent times which, she felt, reflected well on the council as a place to work.

Taxing

However she stressed children’s social work was “a really taxing role” with a lot of pressure involved and that around 10 members of staff left per year on average although some of those were social workers who moved into management roles rather leaving the profession.

She added that management within the children and families service was undergoing an “enormous change”.

Meanwhile the council will develop three young people’s residential homes of its own and create a team to better support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

Ms Coles described the March 2026 target of ending placements in profit-making children’s residential homes as “enormously challenging” and said she was “less confident” in meeting it than the agency worker target.

However she said she believed council-run residential homes would be better for the young people placed there as well as from a budget point of view.

Asked if the council would prioritise young people from Carmarthenshire in the residential homes as opposed to young people from other areas Ms Coles said this would be the case.

These would be children, she said, who through no fault of their own could not live with their families due to being let down through neglect or abuse.

Complex needs

She said the only exception to the Carmarthenshire-only placements would be children with highly complex needs who would be looked after for short periods of time in one of the three homes.

The council’s plans to eradicate profit-making also includes reducing the use of independent foster carers by March 2026.

The overall programme of work discussed in the meeting is costing £7.5m with £2m of that coming from reserves. Ms Coles said this investment was having a very positive impact on staff morale. “I can’t tell you the difference it makes,” she said.


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