Not enough children have a timely, well-considered plan for permanence at Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole children's services, Ofsted has revealed.
The councils previously serving the boroughs of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole have been replaced by one new council known as Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council. A new corporate director of children’s services came into post when the council came into being on 1 April 2019.
The senior leadership team has taken timely and effective measures to understand the experiences of children in care of the new council and senior leaders have found that not enough children have a timely, well-considered plan for permanence or have the security of being long-term matched to their forever home.
"Managers are not rigorous enough in providing direction to ensure that children’s plans are progressed quickly enough. Independent reviewing officers do not challenge the lack of pace in making important decisions for children. Consequently, children experience drift and delay in achieving their permanence plans," said the report following a focused visit of the authority which looked at its arrangements for planning and achieving permanence for children in care.
The senior leadership team is rightly embarking on a programme of integration and transformation. Senior leaders are aware of the strengths and areas for development and have realistic plans to achieve the necessary improvements.
- For a significant number of children, important decisions about long-term arrangements when they cannot remain at home take too long. Early permanence planning, including parallel planning for adoption, is not sufficiently well considered.
- The quality of assessments and effectiveness of care planning for permanence is inconsistent.
- Independent reviewing officers rarely challenge when permanence plans for children are not presented to the second review.
- Not all children are long-term matched with their carers. These children do not have certainty about their future. They do not benefit from the sense of belonging and stability afforded by a secure placement.
- There is not yet a sufficiently wide choice of placements to meet children’s needs.
However, the report says that most children benefit from trusting relationships with social workers. Social workers visit regularly and spend quality time with children. Life-story work is a strength in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole and is not seen as a ‘one-off’ piece of work but continues throughout children’s lives.
Extended family members are considered as potential carers for children who cannot live at home. Furthermore, special guardianship and connected carers assessments are of a good quality. The rationale for recommendations and decisions is well explained so that family members understand them.
Most children in care are safe where they live and are living in their forever home. Foster carers are well supported through an extensive training offer and a broad range of monthly support groups. Family time is well considered, appropriately risk assessed and informed by what children want. It is arranged flexibly so that it is meaningful and promotes positive relationships for children with their family, as well as others who are important to them.
Supervision with social workers takes place regularly and staff talk positively about supervision and the support they receive from their managers. However, supervision records fail to demonstrate that permanence planning for children is at the forefront of discussions, or that permanence options have been carefully considered.
"Senior leaders are well aware of the issues identified by inspectors through their own audits, externally commissioned audits and data analysis. They demonstrate that they have well-thought-out and realistic actions to make the necessary improvements, for example acting promptly to create a new fostering panel that will focus on long-term matching arrangements, the creation of new permanence policies so that expectations are clear, and a new supervision policy and approach. However, it too soon to see the impact of these for children now," the report concluded.
In order to improve social work practice, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole should address permanence planning for children, including the use of parallel planning so that they achieve permanence at a time that is right for them.
The quality of care plans needs improving so that they reflect children’s current needs and circumstances and are informed by up-to-date, comprehensive needs assessments.
The effectiveness of management oversight should ensure timely permanence for children. The scrutiny of permanence planning by independent reviewing officers needs addressing so that children have timely and well-considered plans for permanence that progress.
Finally, the range and choice of placements needs improvement to meet children’s needs and support permanency planning.
Focused visit to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Children’s Services