Direct work with children in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham is strong and the overall experiences of children and their families in receipt of services continue to be good, Ofsted has said.
Since the last inspection, in 2016, the local authority has disaggregated most social care services for children from the joint arrangements with Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster, although some shared services remain.
The newly established senior leadership team, with good support from corporate and political leaders, has focused on sustaining and improving the quality of work with children and families.
"Services have been successfully redesigned following internal and external reviews, and have benefited from significant investment. Leaders know their services well and are actively tackling areas that need further improvement, such as the quality of performance data and the consistency of services offered to children in need of help and protection, as well as those in private fostering arrangements. Capacity has been increased in the contact and assessment service. However, caseloads remain high. In addition, capacity issues within the early help service are resulting in some delays to the provision of support to children and their families," said the report of children's services.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection is good. Inspectors highlighted:
- The disaggregation of the early help arrangements has led to the creation of a family support service, provided by an independent local authority trading company.
- Although some children have experienced delay in receiving support, once allocated within family support, child-focused early help assessments, fully informed by children’s experiences, wishes and feelings, result in effective plans to support change and improve children’s circumstances.
- An effective model of systemic practice is fully embedded across all services.
- Work with partner agencies is strong. Thresholds are well understood and applied effectively in both the initial contact and advice team (ICAT), which acts as the ‘front door’, and the highly effective multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), which is shared with Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster.
- When children’s needs escalate, timely child protection enquiries take place. However, strategy discussions do not always include all relevant partner agencies.
- The majority of work with children is informed by timely child and family assessments of their needs.
- Children subject to child protection planning have their needs regularly reassessed and updated.
- Managers have recognised that case recording is not yet consistent and does not always reflect the quality of practice being undertaken. Chronologies are improving, following recent workshops, but supervision records are variable, and do not always do justice to the quality of supervision reported by social workers.
- Disabled children benefit from a wide range of specialist services to meet their complex needs, and their outcomes improve as a result.
- Children at risk as a result of exploitation outside of the family home benefit from highly effective responses.
- Sophisticated mapping of young people at high risk of exploitation is collated well and reported to senior managers on a monthly basis. The mapping leads to clear identification of the most vulnerable children and informs effective strategies.
- Currently, there is only one known private fostering arrangement in Hammersmith and Fulham.
- Young people who are aged 16 and 17 and at risk of homelessness receive timely and effective support.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers were also rated as good.
The inspection report highlighted:
- Pre-proceedings activity under the public law outline is resulting in effective work with children to remain in the care of their families when appropriate.
- The highly effective ‘family assist’ and ‘looked after children assist’ (LAC assist) teams enable children at the edge of care to remain in family arrangements.
- The vast majority of children and young people in care benefit from living in a wide range of placement arrangements with their brothers and sisters, if appropriate, and in placements that meet their individual needs.
- The fostering service, shared across the three boroughs, efficiently recruits potential carers who can meet the needs of individual children.
- Placement stability is well considered by workers and managers.
- Some children experience delay between coming into care and entering their adoptive placement, due to appropriate but lengthy and complex care proceedings.
- Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children benefit from effective work to ensure that their needs are assessed and responded to. Social workers give good consideration to children’s individual needs, including their emotional and physical health.
- Children’s emotional health and well-being are well considered and supported effectively by the family assist and LAC assist teams.
- Since the Ofsted focused visit in September 2018, targeted improvements to the delivery of services to care leavers are resulting in more effective responses to young people.
- Care leavers are given very effective support to access education, employment and training opportunities, including an increase in the number of apprenticeships available.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is also good, Ofsted states. It says:
- Since the last inspection, the disaggregation of the shared arrangements with Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster, has resulted in opportunities to develop new services and processes, with full corporate and political support to meet the needs of children and families in Hammersmith and Fulham.
- Senior leaders have a good understanding and an accurate self-assessment of their services, supported by their quality assurance framework, although this would be further strengthened by the availability of robust performance data.
- Strong partnership working has continued, both during and following the disaggregation, and has enabled the ongoing shared service arrangements to thrive.
- Since the inspection in 2016 and the local authority children’s services focused visit in September 2018 regarding care leavers, targeted work has been undertaken to address the recommendations made.
- Senior leaders have appropriately commissioned external evaluations and undertaken a range of effective deep-dive audits to ensure a focus on performance and the quality of services, while waiting for further development of the performance datasets.
- Senior leaders have invested effectively in the children’s workforce, with a well established recruitment programme of students and newly qualified social workers.
- However, leaders are aware that caseloads in the contact and assessment service and in the early help teams remain high, and they are monitoring these closely.
"Staff enjoy working in Hammersmith and Fulham and morale is high. Workers speak positively about proactive, visible, supportive managers, access to clinical practitioners and good training opportunities, including the highly valued shared Centre for Systemic Social Work. This confirms findings from the annual staff survey," the report concluded.
In order to improve, Hammersmith and Fulham should address capacity within the early help and contact and assessment services and improve the quality of planning for children in need.
There should be consistency of multi-agency information-sharing and participation at strategy discussions, the report adds.
Case recording, including supervision records and robust recording of the management of allegations needs improvement and Hammersmith and Fulham should address the availability of robust performance data.
Hammersmith and Fulham