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Bradford children's services deteriorate, warns Ofsted

Services for children in Bradford have rapidly deteriorated since the last Ofsted inspection in April 2017, the inspectorate has warned.

An increased demand for services in the borough coupled with the loss of a significant number of experienced social workers and managers who left to work for other local authorities have caused children's services to get worse since the Joint Targeted Area Inspection in 2017.

"Across child protection and children in need services, too many children are not getting the right help they need at the right time," said the report."Inspectors found clear evidence of the detrimental impact of changes of social workers and managers, as well as resultant poor practice, leaving children at risk of significant harm."

However inspectots stated that senior managers have been addressing the issues and have developed key decision-making panels, have improved quality assurance and have recruited to new teams to better support children in care in particular. Further new key management appointments and social workers have been recruited and are due to start after the completion of the inspection.

The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families and the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers were judged as 'requires improvement to be good' while the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection and overall effectiveness was rated as 'inadequate'.

In terms of children who need help and protection, inspectors found:

- Serious failures leave children at risk of significant harm.

- Children in need of protection are not consistently identified and are not given the right help at the right time to meet their needs.

- Inappropriately, all contacts involve a full duty social work review. This leads to too many children being subject to unnecessary and disproportionate social work processes, while others who need help and protection are not prioritised.

- When children’s circumstances do not improve, timely alternative decisive action is not always taken.

- Vulnerability of some specific groups of children is not always recognised or appropriately responded to, for example, the impact of ongoing neglect or domestic abuse is not always recognised.

Yet inspectors highlighted that other vulnerable children receive good support, for example, the response to children at risk of child sexual exploitation is a strength. A dedicated multi-agency child sexual exploitation hub ensures a thorough analysis of risk through daily meetings.

In terms of children in care and care leavers, they are not yet receiving consistently good help to promote their well-being and to improve their outcomes.

The report highlighted:

- Most children in care benefit well from the support of social workers.

- Specialist multi-agency teams robustly address concerns about child sexual exploitation and respond well to incidents when children go missing.

- Bradford local authority is committed to ensuring that, wherever possible, children remain close to their families.

- Children in care are encouraged to keep themselves healthy, and their health needs are appropriately and regularly assessed.

- The virtual school has focused on improving the attendance and outcomes of children in care in partnership with schools and social work colleagues.

- Children leaving care receive inconsistent support as they move towards independence.

With regards to the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, leaders have been aware of the extent of serious failures in social work practice in Bradford. They have been responding to those issues, some of which, but not all, have been effectively prioritised and challenged, and improvements have been made.

The report stated:

- Inspectors could clearly see that Bradford local authority children’s services responded to the recommendations from the last Ofsted full-service inspection in May 2014, and to the JTAI in April 2017.

- The SDCS has kept the leader of the council, lead member for children and chief executive fully involved, and they all have a good awareness of the issues in children’s services.

- A service-wide improvement plan has prioritised areas including staff recruitment and continued auditing of casework. This has resulted in an improvement in permanent staffing and a reduction from 38 social worker vacancies to only five.

- Staffing vacancies, and use of agency staff, is an issue in some of the social work teams.

"The vast majority of social workers and staff met by inspectors report that Bradford local authority is a good place to work, with good support, including access to training and workable caseloads," said the report.

"Formal supervision is not always happening regularly, though, and is not sufficiently reflective. This was recognised by senior managers, who have developed a practice supervisor role to bolster the quality and frequency of management oversight," the report concluded.

Ofsted said Bradford should focus on the identification and response to risk, particularly the longer-term impact of domestic abuse and neglect and clarity about what change is needed by families and by when during pre-proceedings.

The prioritisation and timely, proportionate response to contacts, including gaining parental consent needs focus as does social work practice, including the quality of assessments and plans and their implementation.

Multi-agency child protection work, including strategy meetings, child protection conferences, core groups and child in need reviews and the response to children with specific vulnerabilities, including children aged 16 to 17 who present as homeless and children privately fostered, as well as the oversight and monitoring of allegations against professionals working with children should be prioritised.

The inspectorate said the sufficiency of local placements to meet the needs of children in care, the provision of life-story work for all children in care, completion of mandatory training for all foster carers and supervision of social work staff, which provides direction, to be regular and reflective all need addressing in order to improve social work practice in Bradford.

Inspection of Bradford Council

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