Senior leaders in Croydon are progressing well in implementing their improvement plan, Ofsted has said.
In its second monitoring visit since Croydon was rated inadequate in July 2017, inspectors found that senior leaders and managers have quickly responded to issues identified in the first monitoring visit.
“The local authority has invested a significant amount of additional resources to improve the quality of children’s services,” the inspection report added.
The visit focused on services for vulnerable adolescents and inspectors found services were “highly variable” and too many children receive an inadequate service.
The broad weaknesses in practice mirror the themes found in the first monitoring visit including a lack of management direction and oversight, lack of clarity in identifying the specific risks and clearly outlining what needs to happen to reduce risk. Written plans are generally of a poor quality, and are brief and generalised without specifically identifying risks. Written records are “highly variable in quality and content,” the report found.
The experience for some children had been negatively impacted by lack of suitable placement choice. Drift and delay were seen for some children, particularly in pathway planning.
Staff turnover and the high number of agency staff, currently at 41%, mean that some children have too many changes of social worker which impacts on the development of a secure social work relationship. The continuity of social workers for children looked after is more stable. Services are benefiting from the additional investment, with higher staff numbers and smaller teams of six practitioners. Caseloads generally are at a reasonable level.
Services for children who go missing from home or care or those at risk of being sexually exploited are highly variable in quality. Services are being restructured to provide a coherent specialism and align support to youth offending, ‘missing’, child sexual exploitation, two specialised adolescent services and other aspects of high-risk, including female genital mutilation and radicalisation. This is underway, but not yet fully in place. It has enabled a closer focus on children who go missing, with a daily ‘missing’ meeting and a change to the process for offering return home interviews. There is an improving take-up of return home interviews, with a completion rate of 62% in February, but timeliness is poor, with only 36% of interviews undertaken within 72 hours.
The local authority is currently instigating a process for conducting return home interviews for children who go missing and are placed at a distance, but this is not yet embedded.
Inspectors were consistently impressed with the quality of frontline practitioners and said they displayed a good awareness of the needs of the children they worked with and a real commitment to ensuring that they engaged well with children.
Children facing the highest risks in Croydon are known and thresholds are understood. All cases seen during this visit showed that children were receiving a service appropriate to their level of need, including escalation to child protection plans and becoming looked after.
The report concludes that in summary, senior leaders and managers have acted promptly to put in place effective means for improvement. They have progressed actions since the first monitoring visit and have a clear understanding of what they need to do to continue to improve.
Positive steps include:
- The engagement with their improvement partner, with an agreed set of initial priorities
- Significantly improved auditing processes that show an understanding of what good practice looks like
- an improved line of sight from senior managers, including direct involvement in auditing
- a number of home visits to children by the director of early help and children’s social care
- commissioning an independent external review of assessment cases closed as ‘no further action’, and recommissioning further work following the first monitoring visit
- gaining a clear understanding of the weakest aspects of their service.
“However, the impact on children still remains too variable and this is particularly relevant for vulnerable adolescents, where the risks are highest. The service for these children remains weak at this point of transition and development, with an urgent need for improved management oversight,” the report concluded.