There has been a "marked deterioration" in the quality, timeliness and delivery of services to children at Wokingham, Ofsted has said.
Since the last inspection in 2017, there has been increased caseloads in children’s social care and early help, linked to a rise in demand and instability across the workforce.
"The significant pressures within the MASH and assessment service were not identified or addressed early enough to prevent the decline," said the report, acknowledging that in recent months, leaders have taken more assertive steps to stabilise the service.
The current leadership team, led by the current interim DCS, has a clearer understanding of the areas for development within the service. With additional investment, such as through a new team of locum staff to reduce a substantial backlog in assessments, the management team has begun to tackle these weaknesses.
This, together with a levelling off of demand, has led to a recent reduction in caseloads. New referrals are receiving a more timely response and staff morale has begun to improve from a very low base. The situation remains fragile, the positive changes are very recent, and the ongoing impact is still to be tested.
The report highlights that:
- The ‘front door’ provides an accessible single point of contact for families and professionals who are seeking help.
- Early help referrals are appropriately reviewed and prioritised within the MASH.
- The review and coordination of new contacts when children go missing is managed by the MASH early help assistant team manager and this works well in the identification of levels of vulnerability and in the offer of early help services.
- The co-location of health, police and early help professionals within the MASH enables, in most instances, helpful information-sharing.
However, the triaging of domestic abuse notifications is not as effective as it should be. Most initial child protection strategy discussions include police and children’s social care only, and a small number do not take place quickly enough.
Due to the substantial and recent pressures within the service, some children who are subject to a child and family assessment have continued to experience delay in their needs being understood and receiving help.
Thresholds for child protection enquiries are sometimes too low, resulting in a small number of families being drawn into child protection processes when this is not required.
Senior and quality assurance managers have implemented an extensive audit programme, including themed audits and observations of practice. Leaders recognise that the audit tool needs to be improved and recent training of managers who audit cases has taken place to support a more consistent approach.
Although supervision of frontline staff is mostly regular, and staff feel well supported by these meetings with their managers, it does not always address practice or performance or rigorously progress plans for children.
In order to improve social work practice, Wokingham should focus on:
- The sustainability of arrangements to stabilise the workforce and meet ongoing demand.
- The effectiveness of arrangements for the police to play a full and active role within the MASH.
- The recording of screening and triage within the MASH, to support accountability of decision-making.
- Child protection strategy discussions, including: timeliness; the engagement of multi-agency professionals and the quality of information-sharing; threshold decision-making; and planning.
- The application of the significant harm threshold in order to ensure that children are only subject to child protection enquiries when these are necessary.