Services for children and families in Ealing have deteriorated since the last inspection in 2016, and now require improvement to be good, Ofsted has said.
A new electronic recording system, a change to the way in which contacts and referrals were handled and insufficient checks and balances led to work building up at the integrated ‘front door’. As a result, there were delays in assessing children’s needs, except for those children identified as being at immediate or potential risk of harm.
However, once referrals are accepted, the quality of practice improves, and some aspects of the service are working well.
"The quality of services for children in care and care leavers is variable. Some children have waited too long to come into care, but when in care, most live in secure and stable homes. They receive good support for their education, and their health needs are met well. Care leavers receive a high level of support with their education, training and employment, but the quality of their accommodation is inconsistent, and some care leavers do not feel safe where they live," said the report following an inspection of children's services.
Senior managers had already identified some of these concerns, although the impact of the weaknesses was not fully appreciated until the inspection. They are taking action to strengthen services and are determined to improve the experiences and progress of children.
In terms of the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection which requires improvement to be good, Ofsted highlighted:
Children at risk of significant harm are identified quickly and receive a timely response. However, a lack of ongoing management oversight results in some other children waiting too long at this point before sufficient information is gathered to inform next steps.
Children affected by domestic abuse are identified in a timely way, with good quality referrals from the police, detailing their contact with families, the report notes.
Most children and family assessments are thorough and include detailed consideration of children’s needs and family history, and focus on any risks to which children may be exposed. However, most take too long, leaving families with uncertainty.
Children’s plans are of good quality with the majority being realistic and clear about what needs to change. Most plans include specific and measurable activities that are tracked to assess progress.
Furthermore, disabled children and their families benefit from a comprehensive offer of support. Children vulnerable to criminal exploitation also benefit from multi-agency coordinated planning that helps to reduce risk.
In relation to the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers which also requires improvement to be good, inspectors highlighted:
However, staff demonstrate strong commitment to Ealing’s ‘Brighter Futures’ model, with its ethos of keeping children within their families when it is safe to do so.
Children are well supported to return home to their families when it is in their best interests, and multi-disciplinary teams are effective in providing the help to achieve this safely, the report adds.
For those children who cannot return to their birth parents, there is a strong focus on permanence within the wider family.
Social workers show persistence in their family-finding efforts to achieve adoption for all children who need it, including those with complex needs. The majority of children benefit from effective care plans that are holistic and demonstrate a therapeutic and nurturing approach to their care.
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people receive sensitive and prompt responses from the unaccompanied minors’ team.
Most children in care live in secure and stable homes. Senior leaders have strengthened the commissioning of local options to bring children back to Ealing so that they can be closer to family and friends. However, some children experience too many moves when they initially come into care, because matching is not always effective in ensuring that children are in the most suitable home.
Foster carers are positive about the quality and responsiveness of the support that they receive from their supervising social workers
Staff are aspirational for care leavers, many of whom are provided with a high level of support to engage in education or training and do very well. The leaving care service is in touch with the vast majority of care leavers, although the quality and regularity of that contact is variable.
Regarding the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families also requires improvement to be good, the report states:
However, the report states that senior managers have taken appropriate action to increase the number of social workers in the ECIRS and the multi-agency safeguarding teams. The volume of work is now being better managed, and once assessments are underway, the quality of service improves.
There is also a strong history of piloting and developing innovative services in Ealing, and leaders continue to offer an extensive early intervention and prevention service that is successfully delivering support to large numbers of children and families.
Cafcass and the judiciary are both complimentary about the quality of practice for children in care proceedings.
Furthermore, mature safeguarding partnership arrangements in Ealing help to build collaborative work, and this is enhanced by the engagement and involvement of young people.
Senior managers appropriately prioritise the recruitment of social workers. A comprehensive training offer is provided, which is highly valued by the workforce.
Effectively coordinated multi-agency responses are helping to protect children who are at risk of radicalisation, the report adds.
"Senior managers have fully accepted the findings of the inspection and are taking immediate and appropriate action to improve the experiences and progress of children," the report concludes.
Ealing should improve social work capacity and allocation of cases. The quality and timeliness of responses to referrals, including strategy discussions and child protection enquiries needs addressing, the report adds. The quality and consistency of management oversight and challenge by independent reviewing officers needs improvement.
Ealing also needs to address the sufficiency of accommodation, including the range of accommodation options for care leavers.
The quality and accuracy of performance reporting and quality assurance activities needs work and the quality of responses to children and young people who are at risk of being homeless, and children on the edge of care both need improvement, the report concludes.
London Borough of Ealing
Inspection of children’s social care services