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Early progress ‘from low base’ in Buckinghamshire

Buckinghamshire children’s services is making some early progress in improving services for children and young people who are the subject of a child in need plan, Ofsted has said.

In the first monitoring visit of the children’s services department since it was judged to be inadequate in December 2017, inspectors said some progress had been made “from a very low base”.

“Senior leaders have a clear and well-informed understanding of the significant weaknesses in the quality of work with children in need,” said the report of the inspection which focused on children in need. “Plans to improve practice are credible and well devised. Senior managers are strongly committed to moving forward at a realistic pace, and are determined to achieve rapid and sustainable improvements in children’s circumstances and outcomes.”

Social workers said they felt “heard” during the process of change. Caseloads are too high, and this limits the time that social workers have available to spend working directly with children and their families. This, in turn, reduces their ability to build trusting relationships with families that will provide the basis for challenge, support and positive change, the report said.

While the impact of most social work remains too weak, there are encouraging signs of early improvement, underpinned by realistic plans to build on this foundation.

The workforce is comparatively stable and permanent with relatively low vacancy levels, turnover rates and use of agency social workers.

However, the local authority is also committed to evaluating and increasing the capacity of frontline managers and social workers in order to understand what is effective and safe social work with children in need.

Inspectors highlighted:

  • Widespread shortfalls in the quality and effectiveness of intervention and support to children in need are further compounded by inconsistent management oversight.
  • Thresholds for statutory children in need interventions are largely appropriately applied.
  • Not all risks are fully recognised or understood, and this leads to failures and delays in the safeguarding of a minority of children.
  • The quality and timeliness of the assessments reviewed by inspectors were inconsistent.
  • Transfer processes are not always timely or smoothly managed.
  • Caseload pressures are too great and the volume of allocated work in the help and protection teams is too high for a significant number of social workers.
  • The quality of direct work with children is mixed.
  • Most child in need plans lack focus and specificity and do not achieve purposeful, timely and measureable outcomes for children.
  • Reviews of child in need plans are held regularly, but the majority are not attended by frontline managers and managers appear to have little involvement.
  • Overall, supervision and management oversight are not strong enough to consistently help social workers to better understand children’s circumstances.

However, the report highlighted that senior managers fully recognise the vital and difficult role that front-line managers play in creating the right environment for achieving improved practice standards and outcomes for children and so are investing in the training and development of this group.

“Senior managers are introducing a learning and reflective approach as an integral part of case auditing and quality assurance. While this is a positive new initiative, it is too soon to identify what impact it is having on supervision and practice,” the report concluded.

Buckinghamshire monitoring visit


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