The quality of early planning for children in care in Reading is not yet consistently good enough, Ofsted has concluded.
In the sixth monitoring visit of the authority since Reading was rated inadequate in June 2016, inspectors found oversight of pre-court and court, proceedings is “insufficiently rigorous” and does not prevent children experiencing delay.
“Overall, progress in addressing pertinent recommendations of the 2016 inspection has been too piecemeal and fragmented, but plans for accelerating and embedding improved services for children in care are now realistic and achievable,” said the report, which focused on children in care.
The report described how when children first come into care, their cases are held in the safeguarding and court teams, and the quality of work with children at this early stage is variable. Despite recent measures to strengthen early permanence planning, parallel care planning is not always in place.
However, social workers in the specialist children in care teams, where the majority of children in care cases are allocated, carefully build trusting and meaningful relationships with children. Manageable caseloads and a dedicated focus on children in care allows social workers to do more structured and planned work.
The report highlighted:
- Social workers’ records of the visits are improving and some demonstrate well how important objectives of children’s care plans are being met.
- Social workers are exercising more care and attention when they record their direct work with children in care.
- Social workers, children and their families are generally clear about contact arrangements.
- In many cases seen during the visit, life-story work was in progress, but social workers could not always show evidence of this work on children’s case files.
- Social workers’ reports to children’s looked after reviews are helpful information updates, but the majority are not evaluative assessments.
Children in care are supported by an effective virtual school, working closely alongside social workers. Children in care have their health needs assessed and reviewed promptly and regularly and a dedicated child and adolescent mental health service for children in care facilitates swift access to therapeutic assessments and interventions, although this service is not available to the majority of children in care who are looked after outside Reading.
The impact and scale of IRO oversight and challenge is increasing through midway checks and visits to children in care. The volume of IRO challenges has significantly increased over the last year, but the tracking of responses to them is not rigorous enough.
The response to a small number of children in care who repeatedly go missing is largely effective. In some return home interview records, considerable detail is recorded about the missing episode, but this does not consistently lead to a concise analysis of ‘push and pull’ forces.
Inspectors highlighted that the workforce is increasingly stable with 64% of social workers, and 70% of frontline managers, now permanent members of staff, the highest proportion since the inspection.
Supervision recordings identify tasks to be completed and concise directions are helpful for social workers. However, supervision records do not show how children’s changing needs are analysed or how social workers are supported in approaching direct work with children.