INSPECTORS are taking formal action against Neath Port Talbot Council in the light of serious concerns relating to children's social services.
They are invoking Welsh Government protocols after ruling there had been a lack of progress in addressing problems identified in previous inspections — including the failure to protect vulnerable people from potential harm.
The action stops short of direct intervention. Instead the authority and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales have agreed a series of key improvements the council must address over the next year.
Social services director Tony Clements asked for an inspection of children's services in 2010, following a serious case review. Inspections subsequently took place, with this latest one being the third.
CSSIW chief inspector Imelda Richardson said: "I am concerned about the lack of progress, despite the dedication and hard work of frontline staff, in addressing the significant problems we have identified in children's social services in Neath Port Talbot during the past two years.
"I have met the chief executive and he understands there needs to be a step change in the performance of children's social services and that he needs to ensure that all of the necessary actions are taken to rapidly improve these services.
"We have agreed improve- ment targets and CSSIW will be conducting quarterly visits to monitor performance and progress in achieving these."
Serious concern arises when the severity, frequency or persistence of problems exceed that which can be dealt with by usual practice.
In Neath Port Talbot's case there are grounds for serious concern in areas including frequent failure to meet statutory requirements and failure to protect vulnerable people from potential harm.
There was also "persistent under-performance" on key indicators, lack of suitable staff in key positions and lack of effective guidance and quality control.
Council leader Ali Thomas said safeguarding children had been, and remained, a top priority. He said: "The council accepts the findings of this report and acknowledges the need to respond with significant and rapid improvements to these services.
"The council has made some progress in the last 12 months, something that is recognised in the report, but there is much still to do and important areas for us to address.
"To this end, I will be putting in place additional cross-party arrangements to support the improvement programme.
"I would like to pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of all the staff within children's services and give them my personal assurance that we will do everything we possibly can to support them."
Chief executive Steve Phillips added: "The council accepts the pace and depth of change needs to intensify as we move forward to deliver the extent of performance improvement the inspectors are identifying we need to make.
"We will work with the inspectorate and others to take the necessary action to meet the agreed improvement targets to move this service forward so that we can support children and young people in need and their families to achieve the best possible outcomes."