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Decline in quality of practice at Hackney

Since the previous inspection in 2016, there has been a decline in the quality of practice and services for some vulnerable children and their families in Hackney, Ofsted has said.
A focused visit undertaken in February 2019 identified areas for priority action because some children were living in situations of significant harm for too long before action was taken. Since that time, senior leaders have taken steps to improve services for children in need of help and protection. There has been a positive shift in the practice and management culture so that it is increasingly child-focused.
"Early help services are well developed and effective. The majority of children in need make good progress. However, practice for children at risk of harm is not yet consistently good, and a small number of children live in neglectful circumstances for too long. For these children, the pace of change towards child-focused and authoritative practice has been too slow. The quality and impact of practice has deteriorated for some specific vulnerable groups of children, including disabled children, privately fostered children and children missing education. This means that services for these groups of children are not consistently good," said the report.
While many of the recommendations from the 2016 inspection have been addressed, some areas of practice remain as areas for improvement.
In terms of the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, which requires improvement, the report of the inspection of children's services found:
- The quality of practice with children in need of help and protection is improving from the low base identified during the focused visit earlier this year, but it remains too variable.
- Children at risk of immediate harm are seen promptly by social workers, and immediate action is taken to protect them. Most strategy discussions are timely, but for a very small number of children there is a delay in recognising children at risk of significant harm until there has been a further incident or concern.
- The timeliness of social work visits to children and the completion of written assessments has significantly improved from the low base at the time of the focused visit.
- Thresholds are applied consistently and effectively at the front door when concerns first arise, and children and families receive the right level of initial help when they need it.
- Children and families are helped and supported by a range of effective early help services.
- Services for children in need have improved since the findings of the focused visit. There is additional senior manager oversight to ensure that children’s circumstances are improving, or that decisive action is taken to intervene to enable this to happen.
- A range of relevant partners make a positive contribution to the regular reviews of children’s plans.
- While many child protection plans are child-focused, not all are. Some plans measure parental compliance, rather than the changes needed for children and the timescale within which this should be achieved.
- Most decisions to initiate pre-proceedings are appropriate, with effective practice in pre-birth planning.
- Multi-agency interventions with vulnerable adolescents are helping to address the risks associated with exploitation, serious youth violence and going missing.
- The quality of services for disabled children has deteriorated since the previous inspection.
- Senior leaders have been slow to strengthen their response to a significant increase in the number of children who are missing from education.
- Provision of support and accommodation to homeless young people has improved since the previous inspection.
- Private fostering arrangements are under-developed.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers was rated as good. Inspectors highlighted:
- Children in care and leaving care in Hackney benefit from a strong service.
- Children benefit from stable, nurturing relationships with carers, social workers, clinicians and virtual school staff. Social work visits to children are regular, purposeful and well recorded.
- CAFCASS managers spoke positively about the quality of social work evidence in care proceedings, despite a very large increase in the number of care applications being made to the court in the summer.
- All children have a clear permanence plan, and most children achieve timely permanence once they are in care.
- Children are well supported to participate in their reviews.
- There is effective planning for children to return home from care when this is in their best interests.
- Children in care make good educational progress as they receive effective support from teachers, their carers and the virtual school.
- The needs of young people who are unaccompanied minors are well addressed.
- Care leavers receive a strong service from dedicated and experienced social workers.
- The good progress made by care leavers is demonstrated in the timely reviews of their pathway plans. Most care leavers are receiving regular visits from social workers who are persistent in staying in touch.
However, the report stated that assessments of children’s needs are not being updated even when there is a change in care plan, such as a move from foster to residential care. Reviewing officers do not always provide challenge on behalf of children, when, in a very small number of cases, care plans do not progress in line with their expressed wishes, and children experience delay in important decisions being made.
The report stated that the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families requires improvement. The report said:
- The effectiveness of the work of leaders in Hackney has declined since the previous inspection.
- Young people in care have only attended one corporate parenting board within the last year in order to influence key decision-making at a corporate level.
- The quality of oversight and decision-making that managers provide is not consistently effective.
- The self-evaluation of practice is largely accurate, but does not recognise all of the areas for improvement found within this inspection, notably the poor quality of initial strategy discussions, weaker practice for some children in pre-proceedings and the weak practice in ensuring that privately fostered children are being cared for safely.
- Quality assurance is not yet consistently driving improvement to frontline practice across the whole service.
- While most social work units have manageable workloads, a small number have high caseloads due to a combination of a very recent increase in demand and staff absence.
However, there continues to be strong political and corporate support for children’s services. The report also notes that partnerships across Hackney are well developed at a strategic level and elected members and leaders are committed and aspirational corporate parents, as demonstrated by the ongoing investment in services that improve children’s outcomes right from the start of them entering care.
Leaders know their communities well and continue to commission a range of services which are making a real difference to the majority of children, including the clinical service and the domestic abuse intervention service. There is a reflective culture within Hackney, and managers have implemented learning from best practice of other authorities and external reviews.
"Morale is high among frontline social workers, who feel valued by accessible and supportive managers and leaders. Social workers value the administrative support and weekly reflective case," the report concluded.
In order to improve, Hackney should address the quality of information-sharing by partners and the quality of decision-making within strategy discussions.
The assessment of the impact for children of living in neglectful environments needs to improve to inform authoritative and child-centred practice and the quality of assessment and planning for children subject to private fostering arrangements needs work.
The timeliness and effectiveness of pre-proceedings work, including the quality of contingency planning needs addressing and the welfare of children who are missing education or who are home educated is safeguarded needs improving.
Finally Hackney should address the effectiveness of management oversight by leaders and managers at all levels, including the effectiveness of oversight from child protection conference chairs.
London Borough of Hackney
Inspection of children’s social care services

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