Child protection services at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead have deteriorated, Ofsted has warned.
Children’s services were last inspected in 2015, when the overall effectiveness of services was judged to require improvement to be good. Subsequently, frequent changes at senior and managerial levels resulted in "a loss of focus and considerable instability across the workforce," the focused visit found.
"This led to a decline in the quality of services for children in need of help and protection," said the report.
Inspectors reviewed the local authority’s arrangements for managing contacts and referrals in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) and thresholds for children in need of help and protection, including the quality of social work practice in the duty and assessment service.
Since August 2017, as part of a transformation programme to deliver services more efficiently, the council has transferred the delivery of its children’s services to an external provider. This resulted in additional resource and the appointment of a director specifically to oversee the delivery of children’s services, as well as a number of reviews to assess the effectiveness of the service.
As a result, a stable senior leadership team is now in place and staff morale has significantly improved in the front door service. Staff describe a more structured framework, in which decisions are more consistent, and visible and approachable leaders and managers. Senior leaders have an accurate view of the quality of services and an improvement plan is focusing on the right things and encouraging progress has been made in the quality of response to children when they are first referred.
"Nevertheless, progress is not as evident in the duty and assessment service, where significant pressures in capacity and workforce churn have resulted in some children receiving poor quality services. Senior leaders had already identified these weaknesses prior to the focused visit and responded by increasing social work capacity," the report added.
- When children need statutory intervention, the response from the duty and assessment service is not consistently effective.
- The SPA provides an easily accessible single point of contact for all families and professionals seeking help and support. The service provides advice and guidance, access to early help and statutory provision.
- Social workers and partner agencies understand the need for, and consistently seek, parental consent.
- While historical information is gathered to inform managers’ decision-making, chronologies are not always completed, and when they are, they are not always concise enough to be a useful tool for social work staff.
- Early help referrals are proportionate to children’s needs, and a wide range of early help support is available.
- Some social work caseloads in the duty and assessment team are too high, and some children have experienced changes of worker, often at short notice.
- Decisions to start child protection enquires are appropriate and timely in the vast majority of children’s cases.
- The majority of staff feel well supported.
"Although some challenges remain in increasing stability in the duty and assessment team, leaders have been successful in securing a more permanent workforce. Staff morale has significantly improved in the front door service. Staff describe a more structured framework, where managers and the decisions they make are more consistent, and leaders are visible and approachable," the report concluded.
Ofsted recommends that in order to improve social work practice, Windsor and Maidenhead should focus on the quality and effectiveness of management oversight and supervision in guiding case progression, challenging delay and poor practice and promoting consistently good-quality social work.
The Royal Borough should address the size of caseloads in the duty and assessment service and the quality of chronologies, assessments and visiting to children in accordance with their needs.