The majority of core social work practice at Herefordshire children’s services requires improvement, Ofsted has warned.
The pace of planning and action to remedy some long-standing deficits has been too slow which has led to drift and delay for children before, during and after care proceedings, and means that outcomes have not improved for children in a timely way.
“Senior leaders acknowledge that insufficient progress has been made in key aspects of their service, and many weaknesses found during this inspection mirror many of those identified in 2014,” said the report.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection and the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers requires improvement and the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families was rated inadequate.
However, inspectors highlighted that since the last inspection in 2014, senior leaders have made some progress and have improved practice in some areas, for example in strengthening assessments for disabled children and in ensuring that information about children who go missing is shared effectively and is robustly analysed by partner agencies.
Further, children identified as at risk of immediate harm receive prompt and responsive intervention, ensuring that they are safeguarded. When risks increase, and children are no longer able to live safely at home, the local authority is making increasingly good use of its legal powers to safeguard and protect children.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement. Inspectors found:
- No children seen during the inspection were found to be at risk of immediate harm.
- Early help family support services received by families are responsive and an intense package of support is provided.
- Children identified as at risk of immediate harm receive a timely and responsive intervention, ensuring that they are safeguarded.
- Similarly, section 47 child protection investigations are carried out in a timely way and appropriate decisions are reached.
- The quality of help and protection offered to children by the disabled children’s team is a strength.
- The quality of services and practice for children in need is poor in many cases.
- Children in need and children subject to child protection plans do not always receive timely visits.
- Management oversight of frontline practice is not consistently effective.
- Social workers across this service have high caseloads.
- Current arrangements within the MASH are not fully collaborative.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers requires improvement. Inspectors highlighted:
- Appropriate decisions are made when children need to come into care.
- When children and young people become accommodated under s20 Children Act 1989, the initial decision-making is appropriate.
- Foster carers go through an appropriate approval process and receive the right range of training to meet the needs of children placed with them.
- For the majority of children for whom the permanence decision is adoption, adoption is achieved in a timely manner.
- Care leavers have timely effective pathway plans that address their needs.
- Children’s care plans are of variable quality.
- The quality and progress of care planning is compromised for some children because of too many changes in social worker.
- Too many children do not have life-story work completed.
- Educational outcomes for children in care are variable.
- While young people at 18 years old have a meeting with the child looked after nurse, not all young people have access to their health information.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is inadequate. Inspectors found:
- A number of areas for improvement from the last inspection in 2014 still require attention and this is a concern.
- Leaders and managers have not been effective in overseeing and ensuring that social work practice flourishes.
- Too many children in need of help and protection and children in care are receiving a poor service.
- Staff in some teams feel a strong disconnect from their senior managers, which is inhibiting improvement.
“Leaders and managers are aware of deficits in practice and service provision, but currently there is a lack of timely action planning to remedy this. Inspectors have seen evidence of their capacity to implement improvements in the children with disabilities service and in the care leavers and 16-plus team. The management team’s response to s20 Children Act 1989 cases has also been effective,” said the report.
“Furthermore, the council has made a recent significant financial investment to support the development and improvement of children’s social care services. This is supported by a recent appointment to the senior management team of an assistant director who brings a renewed focus to long-standing issues. The director of children’s services is aware of the need to take robust and immediate measures to strengthen his management team and there is very recent evidence of assertive action,” it added.
The regularity and quality of social worker supervision, the quality and purposefulness of management oversight and decision-making and the quality of life story work for all children needs improving, said Ofsted.
Furthermore, senior leadership need to urgently implement a robust and timely action plan to deliver improvements and to address deficits in social work practice. Senior managers’ interaction with social workers needs to improve to enable staff to feel listened to.
The pace of progressing child protection and child in need plans and the quality of practice with children in need needs addressing as does the the sufficiency of social workers and managers with capacity to cope with the need for services and the volume of social worker caseloads.