Neath Port Talbot Council try to cut excessive hours
SOCIAL workers in Neath Port Talbot have been burning the midnight oil just to keep on top of their caseloads, it has been claimed.
Some have had to go out to visit families at 10pm, while others have been sending work-related emails as late as midnight.
This was one of the problems identified by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, which has now invoked "serious concern protocols" against Neath Port Talbot Council.
It found that while the authority was acting to deal with problems identified in previous inspections, it was not doing so quickly enough.
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As a result, Neath Port Talbot Council has now agreed a series of key priorities with the CSSIW, which will monitor how the council implements them over the next 12 months.
Unison branch chairman Mark Fisher said the union welcomed the inspection report as members had been in danger of burn-out because of excessive hours.
"It was getting quite ridiculous," said Mr Fisher. "We did a survey that identified work-related stress, lack of administrative support and social workers working late at night and into the early morning just to try to keep up with their workload."
Mr Fisher said a workforce plan had been put in place, which identified some of the problems.
"But Rome wasn't built in a day," he added.
"Although we have made great strides, we still have a long way to go, particularly on the recruitment side.
"We are still concerned about the high turnover of staff and the reliance on agency workers."
Mr Fisher said there was also a clear imbalance between newly-qualified and experienced staff, and social workers were having to spend too much time on paperwork rather than dealing with children and families.
Social services director Tony Clements asked the CSSIW to carry out an inspection in 2010 following an independent review in the wake of a serious case review.
Inspections subsequently took place that year and last year, with a third carried out this September to ascertain how the council had dealt with previously-identified issues.
Mr Clements said: "They (CSSIW) recognise we have recruited a number of staff.
"We have stabilised the workforce and they are definitely positive about the work we have done with the workforce.
"But practice on the ground is still not good enough, and one area they have identified is that we still need to recruit key principal officers.
"A new advert has gone out and we will be recruiting as quickly as we can," he added.