Some children in Lancashire still wait too long to achieve permanence with their long-term carers, Ofsted has found.
A new permanence policy has been implemented and Lancashire has introduced new systems and tools to scrutinise the quality of work more closely in permanence planning for children in care which is leading to a more organised approach to permanence so that the need to live in secure and caring homes for the duration of their childhood is being appropriately considered for more children.
However, some children still wait too long to achieve permanence with their long-term carers, which means that this approach is not yet fully embedded across children’s services.
"Following the last inspection in 2018, the local authority recognised the need to drive improvement in relation to permanence planning for children in care. However, the pace of improvement has only accelerated since the beginning of this year," said the report, which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for achieving permanence.
"Progress in achieving permanence in a timely manner is affected by the inconsistent quality of assessments, plans and management oversight on the child’s record. Consequently, it is not always clear how decisions to achieve permanence are made within the child’s time frame," the report added.
The new senior leadership team is appropriately focused on reducing very high numbers of children in care. Senior leaders have developed a more robust audit framework, which accurately identifies shortfalls in practice.
- Children come into care appropriately, although there are sometimes missed opportunities to initiate legal proceedings earlier for children who are living in families where there is a history of chronic neglect.
- Children live in appropriate, mostly stable placements, within the county.
- When children can return home safely, comprehensive home placement agreements are put in place.
- Children’s review meetings are regular and well attended, with children frequently encouraged to participate.
- The local authority has a detailed understanding of the needs of children and has developed its sufficiency strategy to ensure that most placements can meet children’s needs within the county.
- Permanence panels are held across the locality areas and provide a useful mechanism to regularly scrutinise permanence plans.
The quality of children’s assessments is too variable and this is recognised by senior managers. The quality of care plans is also variable. In the stronger examples, plans record outcomes and the child’s views well. In the weaker examples, they contain too much narrative, lack detail and specificity regarding actions and timescales, and do not include contingency arrangements.
Direct work with children is sometimes limited and subject to delay and children can wait too long for life-story work to be undertaken, which means that they do not always have timely access to the support needed to help them understand their experiences.
The practice issues of drift and delay are recognised by senior managers.
Management oversight within supervision is regular, but the records of these discussions are often too brief and task focused, and they lack reflection about the most appropriate routes to permanence and the impact for children.
Caseloads are too high for some social workers, although senior managers report that these are reducing, and there has been a reliance on agency staff in some areas.
"Social workers spoke very positively about the supportive team environment in Lancashire, the accessibility of managers and the training provided to help them do the job. Newly qualified social workers were also positive about the support they receive. Purposeful practice workshops continue to be facilitated by advanced practitioners on a range of practice issues, as seen at the time of the last inspection, and are highly valued by staff," the report concluded.
To improve, Lancashire should ensure that assessments that are of a consistently good standard. Plans should provide detailed actions and timescales to measure progress.
Timely and purposeful direct work should be carried out with children to help them understand their plan. Finally, management oversight should provide a clear rationale for permanence decisions and reduces drift and delay.
Focused visit to Lancashire children’s services