Ofsted has told Bournemouth children's services that they need to improve and rated the authority as 'requires improvement'.
Senior leaders have not made progress with a number of recommendations from the previous inspection and practice deficits remain in key areas. Leaders have also not paid sufficient attention to address areas of practice where performance is poor or has declined, such as the experiences and progress of care leavers.
"Although action has been taken to improve capacity and oversight of practice in some teams, it has not led to consistent and timely improvements in service provision," said the report.
Decision-making in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) is not consistently timely, the quality of strategy discussions is too variable and subsequent child protection enquiries are not recorded well, the report added. The majority of assessments undertaken by the assessment team are of poor quality.
However, Ofsted noted that work within the safeguarding team is of a better standard throughout, and once their cases reach this team, children receive timely and effective help from experienced social workers to improve their circumstances.
It added that prior to leaving care, most children receive a good service from their social workers, who know them well. The majority make good progress and live in good-quality foster homes with carers who are supportive and meet their needs.
However, services for care leavers have deteriorated since the last inspection and too many young people are not supported effectively in order to ensure that they achieve good outcomes or are ready for adulthood.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection was rated as 'requires improvement' and Ofsted highlighted:
- Too often, children and young people in Bournemouth do not receive timely support to meet their needs.
- Social workers and managers do not always make appropriate decisions about the level of intervention required to help children.
- The local authority has not made sufficient progress since the last inspection to develop an edge of care service for adolescents.
- However, where children are considered to be at risk of significant harm, they receive an effective service. The quality of help and protection provided by the disabled children’s team is a strength.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers requires improvement. Ofsted said:
- High caseloads for personal advisers are impacting on the ability to deliver an effective service.
- While the timeliness of completing pathway plans has improved, the quality of planning for the majority of care leavers is poor, and interventions often lack focus and direction.
- Visits to care leavers are not sufficiently timely or purposeful.
Yet the inspectorate said children are well matched with adopters who are able to access a range of therapeutic and support services to maximise their understanding of and care for children. Further, creative direct and life-story work is undertaken with children in care to help them make sense of their lives and build emotional resilience. Social workers draw on a range of multi-agency and in-house services in order to enhance their practice.
With regards to the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families which was rated as inadequate, Ofsted found:
- Management oversight of frontline practice is not effective in some teams.
- Managers are not consistently rigorous in monitoring and challenging the quality of social work practice to improve outcomes for children.
- Regular auditing of case files is undertaken by the local authority, but the experiences of children are not yet being effectively captured to inform leaders of the quality of practice or to inform service improvements.
However, the local authority has improved the range and quality of performance information available since the last inspection, and regular meetings with frontline managers are increasing ownership of performance. This is driving improvements in compliance-related practice, such as the timeliness of completing assessments.
"The local authority has been successful in recruiting and retaining social workers, reducing the reliance on agency staff and stabilising the workforce. There is a clear and comprehensive range of development opportunities available, with good links to the Pan Dorset Health and Social Care Academy based at Bournemouth University. Social workers are positive about working in Bournemouth, and caseloads are manageable for the majority of workers," said the report.
Ofsted makes a number of recommendations that Bournemouth should concentrate on improving including:
- The effectiveness and oversight of leaders to drive forward service improvements.
- Management oversight and review of social work practice, including supervision.
- The application of thresholds in relation to referrals and decision-making following the completion of assessments.
- The quality of response to homeless 16-and 17-year-olds and children on the edge of care.
- The quality of responses to children at risk of sexual exploitation or to children who go missing.
Diane Wills is Consultant Social Worker at WillisPalmer, responsible for quality assuring the forensic risk assessment reports.
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