FURTHER action is needed to deliver a plan aimed at safely reducing the number of children coming into care in Torfaen, a watchdog has said.
The rate of looked after children in Torfaen per 10,000 of the child population is the highest in England and Wales, according to government figures. As of March 31, the rate was 229 per 10,000 of the population aged under 18, compared to the Wales rate of 115.
Merthyr Tydfil has the second highest rate in Wales at 150, followed by Blaenau Gwent at 147. In England, Blackpool has the highest rate at 210 per 10,000 children.
Torfaen’s rate of children in care was the highest in England and Wales in 2019, prompting Audit Wales to focus on children’s services in a review which has now been published.
The Audit Wales report said it identified children’s services as the focus for the review because “the growth in demand, cost and escalation presented the council with a challenge that was big, complex and urgent, and continues to do so”.
The review looked at whether the council is effectively delivering its T22 children’s services transformation programme, which includes a key aim of stopping the rate of increase, while continuing to keep children and young people safe.
In 2019, when the second phase of the project was approved by Torfaen council’s cabinet, former chief executive Alison Ward warned the council was “heading towards unsustainability” with the increase in children coming into care.
But Welsh Government figures show numbers have continued to rise, from a total of 415 in 2019 to 445 this year.
The Audit Wales review found overall that to deliver the transformation project outcomes more effectively, Torfaen council “now needs to drive progress and collective action to secure improved outcomes”.
A report says the council needs to “identify and more comprehensively implement evidence based early intervention and prevention models”.
It adds that the council’s vision for its project is ‘ambitious’, but that it needs to develop “clearer measures of success to monitor its progress towards its intended outcomes”.
The council’s delivery of the project’s aims has been slowed due to Covid-19 and it will now need to “take collective action” to address this and achieve the intended outcomes, Audit Wales said.
The findings of the review were presented to Torfaen council’s cabinet and senior leadership team in March last year.
In response, the council has decided to develop a new five-year children’s services strategy that aims to address the review findings.
It is expected to be published early this year, according to Audit Wales.