Services for children in Barking and Dagenham require improvement, as was the case at the last inspection in 2014, Ofsted has said.
However, the recently appointed director of children’s services, together with her senior team, has appropriately prioritised services for children most at risk.
"Strong and effective senior leadership is resulting in tangible improvements to both the quality and impact of social work practice. Until recently, too many children had experienced delays and ineffective plans as a result of high caseloads and inconsistent management oversight of practice," said the report.
"Decisive action to address these concerns and reconfigure teams, underpinned by rigorous performance management, is now making a discernible difference. The pace of change in the last six months has accelerated, and corporate parenting arrangements are being reinvigorated," it added.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement. Inspectors highlighted:
- Contacts and referrals for children in need or at risk are managed promptly in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH).
- The large majority of child protection strategy meetings include key agencies involved with the child and are held within 24 hours of the referral.
- In many cases, social workers have strong relationships with children.
- Initial child protection conferences are timely and are well attended by relevant professionals.
- Children and their families benefit from bespoke and skilled work undertaken by the access to resources team.
- Vulnerable adolescents and children at risk of exploitation and radicalisation receive a timely and well-coordinated response when risks are first identified and when they escalate.
- A well-resourced and experienced emergency duty team ensures that effective arrangements are in place and that protective action is taken to safeguard children out-of-hours.
However, high caseloads in the assessment teams and inconsistent management oversight mean that some children do not receive help and protection quickly enough, records of assessment visits vary in depth and quality of detail and thresholds for instigating the PLO are inconsistent.
Furthermore, many children in Barking and Dagenham live in families where there are high levels of domestic abuse, but specific domestic abuse perpetrator programmes are not available.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers requires improvement.
- Appropriate and planned decisions are made for most children who come into care.
- Social workers know children well, and most children are able to build trusting relationships with the same worker.
- Long-term placement stability is beginning to improve.
- Children benefit from well-planned and supported contact with family members.
- Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are promptly safeguarded and placed in independent accommodation or foster care according to their assessed needs. Clear planning ensures that these children make progress in all areas of their lives.
- Strong and motivated fostering and adoption practice managers know their service well and are working hard on the areas that they need to improve.
- Strong relationships formed between staff and care leavers mean that most care leavers are in touch with the service, but contact is not always recorded.
- There is a range of suitable accommodation available for young people, including ‘Staying Put’.
However, the timeliness of initial health assessments is extremely poor and health arrangements for care leavers are weak. Early permanence planning is also underdeveloped.
The report also notes that the quality of viability and special guardianship assessments of family members to care for children who cannot live with their birth parents is highly variable. Plans for children placed at home with parents on a care order are insufficiently reviewed, and limited consideration is given to the early discharge of care orders.
Ofsted states that the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families requires improvement. The report highlighted:
- More recent strong and effective senior leadership is leading to tangible improvements in both the quality and impact of social work practice.
- The new DCS, together with her senior team, has taken well-considered and essential action to address key weaknesses in the quality and impact of services for vulnerable children. They have worked extremely hard, in one of the most deprived boroughs in London, to implement changes quickly.
- Leaders know their communities well and have high aspirations and are determined to do the right thing for children and their families.
- Leaders have aligned and strengthened services effectively to address the broad range of risks experienced by vulnerable adolescents and exploited children.
- Performance management has been significantly strengthened and is helping to drive improvement.
- Successful action to tackle poor performance and the creation of additional posts are beginning to make a difference to the quality of practice.
Ofsted recommends that barking and Dagenham improves the quality, management oversight and impact of early help services and the quality and effectiveness of management oversight and supervision to ensure that children’s circumstances improve within their time-frames.
The timeliness and effectiveness of public law outline (PLO) arrangements needs improvement and planning for children placed with parents needs work.
The strategic relationship with health services, and operational delivery across a range of health functions needs addressing and the authority needs to improve the provision of help for children living with domestic abuse, or in neglectful circumstances.