Assessments and care plans for looked-after children in Sandwell are of variable and often poor quality, a monitoring visit of the authority found.
Plans are not specific enough, and do not focus on all risks, or the complexity, of a child’s needs and behaviour. In particular, for too many children, permanence planning is not yet sufficiently timely or robust, Ofsted stated.
Until very recently, the pace of change in Sandwell has been too slow, and the local authority has made insufficient progress in improving services for the children and young people it looks after, the fifth monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in February 2015 found.
As a result, there are too many looked-after children in Sandwell not receiving the service they should from the authority, said Ofsted.
However it highlighted that: “Since the last monitoring visit, the local authority has invested in increasing capacity in the senior leadership team and social work establishment. After a slow start, significant focus has been applied to growing the permanent workforce through a coherent and comprehensive range of recruitment and retention activities.”
It highlighted that:
- While caseloads still remain too high, they are continuing to reduce towards a manageable level
- Social workers report being well supported by their managers
- There is now consistent evidence of regular supervision
- There is clear management oversight of social work practice
- Social workers are passionate about their work with children and they know them well
- Morale is improving
- All workers, including agency staff, report good access to training and development opportunities.
The local authority has established an audit framework that includes both regular, individual case and themed audits. The quality of some audits has been variable, and in some cases overly harsh judgements were made, which did not take into account the recent improvements in practice.
The report also highlighted that until recently, thresholds, with respect to children becoming looked after, have not been consistently applied. Some children have remained in appropriately placed in private family arrangements for too long. Equally, some children have remained in section 20 arrangements for too long in circumstances where no one was effectively taking parental responsibility for them.
The report following the monitoring visit concluded that a new sufficiency strategy is now in place, focused on improving the range of local placement options for children. The local authority has a keen awareness of its current position and future needs, and has set a number of priorities for the next three years.