Senior leadership in Lambeth is robust and there is a determination to improve outcomes for children and young people in the care of the local authority, Ofsted has said.
The quality of permanence planning is improving and children are seen regularly, and some are benefiting from more timely intervention.
"However, senior managers recognise that there is still a considerable amount of work to do to ensure effective and timely permanence planning for all children and young people," said the report.
Tangible progress is evident in the adoption service, which was judged inadequate at the last inspection in 2018, and the timescales have improved significantly for most of the children who have been adopted recently. Social workers are very positive about working in Lambeth and have good access to training.
Inspectors evaluated the quality of care planning for children in care and the timeliness of permanence arrangements for children who are unable to live with their birth parents, the focused visit to Lambeth found.
The report highlighted:
- Early permanence planning is improving, but it is not yet consistently embedded within social work practice.
- The timeliness of the progression of plans for children with an identified adoption plan has improved significantly since the last inspection.
- Children in pre-proceedings are tracked effectively.
- Decisions to return children to their families are appropriate and are informed by culturally sensitive direct work with both children and parents.
- Decisions to change children’s permanence plans away from adoption are appropriate and well considered.
- Contact arrangements for the majority of children are well managed and are informed by the child’s wishes and needs.
- Social workers visit children regularly, mostly within the local authority’s expected timescales, and they see them alone when appropriate.
- An increasing number of children are leaving care due to the granting of special guardianship orders. Most special guardianship and connected persons assessments are thorough,
Senior managers undertake a range of audit activity, and this helps them to have an accurate understanding of the quality of social work practice. However, the actions being taken to improve practice are not sufficiently comprehensive, which means that the impact of audits in improving outcomes for children is limited.
Inspectors found that for some children subject to care orders who are placed under the placement with parents regulations there is no up-to-date assessment to inform permanence planning, and insufficient management oversight.
Managers have a system for tracking permanence. However, actions identified at permanence panels are not recorded consistently on children’s case records. In many cases, permanence planning meetings are not happening regularly and when they do, they are not effective in determining actions to ensure that plans for permanence are implemented.
IROs, while increasingly active in planning for children, are not routinely tracking the progress of permanence plans, the report found.
Further, a small number of children and young people have been in foster care for a long time without a formal matching arrangement.
While some improvements have been made to the timeliness of completion of lifestory work, this is not consistent. Senior managers are ensuring that social workers have access to good-quality training on life-story work.
Some children have experienced too many changes of social worker, and this has impacted on the pace of permanence planning. However, senior managers are continuing to be proactive in securing a permanent and stable workforce.
"Social workers are very positive about working in Lambeth. They report regular supervision and good access to managers, including senior managers, who support them well. Staff morale in Lambeth is high. Staff have good access to a wide range of induction and training opportunities," the report concluded.
Ofsted recommends that Lambeth improves early permanence planning, the oversight of permanence planning by IROs and managers, the quality and timeliness of permanence planning meetings and the support offer to foster carers. Finally, performance data relating to permanence needs improving.
2022 saw people trying to get back to some degree of normality following the Covid-19 lockdowns, restrictions and school closures that we had faced for the previous two years. However, the impact of Covid-19 continued and many services experienced, and continue to experience, backlogs and difficulties, including those services relating to children and families.
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