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Better understanding of frontline practice at Sandwell

Senior leaders at Sandwell Children's Trust have developed a greater understanding of frontline practice, Ofsted has said.

A focus on service delivery, interrogation of performance information and audits has led to the better understanding of frontline practice, Ofsted said following the fourth monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in January 2018.

"However, more needs to be done to develop the quality and consistency of audits and to understand the impact on children’s outcomes. Progress against the improvement plan has been maintained. Given the size of the task, improvements are incremental and there remains a lot still to do," said the report.

The number of children in care in Sandwell has risen by 20% since the inspection in 2017 and is at the highest level ever experienced by the local authority and the Trust. The Trust has analysed this large number and attributes it to delays in some children exiting care.

The rise has also been attributed to the Trust having to quickly escalate cases which had drifted due to a legacy of poor practice. This was done shortly after the Trust’s inception.
Sandwell Children’s Trust has continued to attract and retain staff and the overall number of permanent staff has increased to 69%, which means that there are now more permanent and experienced staff to manage complex cases.

Inspectors reviewed the progress made in services for children who are subject to care proceedings and children in care.

They found:

- Senior managers and leaders continue to develop their understanding of practice through quality assurance processes and direct involvement in services.

- The social workers talked to all spoke positively about working for Sandwell Children’s Trust. All reported that they receive good support from their managers.

- Supervision is held on a regular basis, with staff stating that they find it helpful and supportive.

- Senior managers understand the need to reduce the numbers of children in care where this is in the children’s interest.

- The voices and experiences of children are beginning to be reflected in some case recording and through the completion of direct work.

- The setting up of a court team has had a positive impact for those children in court proceedings.

- Children’s records evidence a clear focus on ensuring that proceedings are supported by good assessments and care planning in a timely manner.

- There is a greater strategic focus on progressing plans for children in care.

However, caseloads for some social workers remain well above the Trust’s maximum target of 18 cases. Some staff commented that this impacted on their ability to complete specific pieces of work, such as life-story work.

Also, some frontline managers are overly optimistic in some audit outcomes. Not all staff understand the elements of good practice, as evidenced by the moderation process and downgrading of some judgements. Further work is required to ensure consistency of approach in the auditing of work and moving towards a common understanding of practice quality. Audits in general are focused on social work processes and do not gauge the impact of practice and decisions made in respect of the child.

Life-story book work has either not been started or not been completed for children who have been looked after for several years. This means that these children may not understand the reasons why they are in care.

While there is greater strategic focus on progressing plans for children in care, many children continue to experience drift and delay. There remains continued drift and delay in current cases even where there has been recent management oversight.

The quality and timeliness of children’s care plans are inconsistent. Those that are more effective include clear actions and timescales that focus on good outcomes for children but the weaker plans lack a focus for progress or swift action by social workers.

"Sandwell Children’s Trust has demonstrated that it has made some improvements from a low base to the quality of social work practice since the last inspection. Further work remains to be done to ensure that practice is consistently good and that the best outcomes for all children are achieved," the report concluded.

Monitoring visit of Sandwell Children’s Trust

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