Cambridgeshire children’s services need to recruit experienced social workers to deal with the high caseloads in some areas, Ofsted has warned.
A focused visit of Cambridgeshire Council found that while corporate and political support is ensuring a continued focus on improving social work practice, the recruitment of suitably qualified and experienced social work staff needs to be more efficient to reduce “the unacceptably high caseloads in some areas”.
“Some teams are vulnerable to staff turnover, vacancies and absence. Inspectors saw the impact of this, with significantly high caseloads in some areas affecting the quality of social work practice and outcomes for children,” said the report. “In addition, visits to children in need are mostly carried out in accordance with minimum statutory requirements, rather than as identified by the individual needs of the children concerned.”
A reorganisation of children’s services a year ago to a district-based structure has not yet resulted in a stable workforce that provides continuity of support for children and their families in all parts of the county.
High staff turnover, vacancies and absence, as well as significantly high caseloads persist in some areas. Where there are difficulties and delays in recruiting suitably qualified and experienced social workers, some children are not seen regularly enough and they experience too many changes in social workers.
Inspectors saw many single assessments were completed at or over expected time limits, and supervision and case records were not as up to date as they could be. Consultant social workers, who carry a caseload as well as supervising staff, are particularly stretched in some areas, the report noted.
It added: “When caseloads are too high, children are less likely to receive a service appropriate to their identified needs, and social workers may struggle to provide consistently good quality support to children and their families.”
Ofsted reported that leaders in Cambridgeshire know their service well. The local authority’s summary self-assessment report accurately recognises strengths and areas for development, resulting in focused improvement. However, inspectors noted that it is too soon to evaluate the impact on children’s outcomes of some of the newer initiatives.
The report highlighted:
- Assessments of children and families are generally of good quality.
- Children's plans demonstrate that a range of professionals are working productively together in families’ lives.
- Strong and effective partnership arrangements result in consistent joint working and sharing of information to support assessments, planning and ongoing decision-making.
- Specialist support roles, such as the unit clinicians and the adviser from the sexual behaviour service, have a positive impact on progressing plans for children.
- Disabled children receive an effective social work service which recognises individual needs for support and protection.
- Children are seen and seen alone when appropriate.
- Improved commissioning of advocacy services has resulted in more children participating in their child protection conferences.
- Child protection chairs are rigorous in raising concerns and challenging ineffective care planning for children subject to child protection plans.
However the report warns that the use and quality of safety plans are variable. Better plans are developed with families and have a meaningful benefit. However, some plans are more action-focused, with little evidence of being developed with families.
Letters informing families of pre-proceedings work are not family friendly and understandable to families; too often they contain too many expectations and are unrealistic, Ofsted warns.
The report says children’s records need to be up to date, fully reflect the work undertaken with families and show how this informs care planning.
Social workers and managers do not have a clear and consistent understanding of the expected timescales for single assessments and initial child protection case conferences. This needs to be addressed to ensure that children are seen promptly and risks of significant harm are considered by relevant professionals, ensuring timely decision-making and planning.