Cumbria children's services has continued to strengthen arrangements for managing referrals and contacts since the last inspection in November 2017, when the overall effectiveness of services was judged to require improvement to be good, Ofsted has said.
Senior leaders and managers now have a clear oversight and a better understanding of operational practice at the front door. Children and their families receive quick and appropriate responses from the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) when enquiries for early help and support and safeguarding concerns are received.
"Children who need urgent protection receive an effective response, with prompt action taken to reduce risks. Children’s assessments are mostly informative. They include children’s histories and views, which inform the analysis of risk, but issues of identity are not well considered as part of the overall assessment. The response to young people who present as homeless remains poor, despite this being raised at the last inspection," said the report.
Staff recruitment and retention of frontline workers in some areas of the county continues to be a significant challenge for the local authority. In the last few months, staffing vacancies have resulted in a small number of children not having allocated social workers for a short period of time, the report adds. The local authority is actively engaged in a number of initiatives to support social work recruitment and staff development, but at the time of the inspection it was too soon to see any impact of these initiatives on some areas of the service.
The focused visit of children's services, which explored Cumbria's arrangements for the front door, as well as the effectiveness of strategy discussions and child protection enquiries, the quality of assessments and early help plans, thresholds for the transfer of work to early help services and the response to 16- and 17-year-olds who present as homeless, found:
- The front door provides an easily accessible single point of contact for families and professionals seeking advice and support.
- Thresholds are understood and applied by partner agencies, and this leads to timely referrals to children’s social care.
- Managers have detailed oversight of all contacts and referrals in the MASH. Rationale for decisions are clearly recorded and frequent oversight of work within the MASH throughout the day ensures that decisions are made in a timely way.
- Decisions to step down cases to early help from the MASH are appropriate and are informed by an analysis of risks and protective factors.
- When children are referred for a service out of hours, the emergency duty team responds appropriately to reported concerns.
- The needs of children assessed as being at risk of significant harm are prioritised. Cases are swiftly transferred to district support and protection teams to undertake child protection enquiries.
- Child protection investigations are thorough and include the views of partners and full details of discussions following visits with children and parents.
- Assessments of children and their families are mainly comprehensive and well written.
- Most children’s plans are child-centred, and outcome focused.
- In most cases, management supervision and oversight is regular and provides appropriate guidance at key points in work with children.
- Performance management and quality assurance processes ensure that senior managers are well informed about matters relating to frontline practice.
However, 16- and 17-year-olds who present as homeless or who are at risk of becoming homeless are not provided with a robust social work response. Young people are not afforded the opportunity of a social work assessment in all cases. This was raised as an area of improvement during the last inspection and there is insufficient evidence of progress having been made.
Further, case summaries are not always updated following changes in the child’s circumstances. This means that decisions made by the out-of-hours service are not always based on complete information.
Capacity issues over the last two to three months in the West district teams have resulted in a small number of children in need not having allocated social workers for short periods of time. Inspectors were concerned about the impact of this situation on those children. The local authority confirmed that they have prioritised child protection and ensured that any child in need of protection had an allocated social worker.
Senior managers are aware of the impact of instability of the workforce on children and have taken a number of actions to address the workforce capacity issues.
Ofsted recommends that in order to improve, Cumbria should address the capacity and stability of the workforce in the teams where it is most problematic.
Exploration of children’s identity needs in assessments needs improvement as does the assessment of the needs of young people who present as homeless, including consideration of whether they need to be looked after by the local authority.
Actions resulting from audit should be completed in a timely way, the report concludes.
Focused visit to Cumbria local authority children’s services