The scale of improvement required for children in care at Wirral children's services is greater than at the last inspection, Ofsted has warned.
At the time of the inspection in 2016, the judgement for the experiences of children in care was that it required improvement to be good. However, previous monitoring visits have reported that, following inspection, additional deficits in practice were also identified by the local authority. This, in addition to an increase in the numbers of children in care since the inspection, had led to an increase in the scale of improvement required, the report said.
"At this monitoring visit, inspectors found that while the local authority has put better systems in place, this has not yet resulted in improved permanence planning for children. Progress for care leavers is stronger, with evidence of service developments starting to make a positive impact for young people," said the monitoring visit which looked at the experiences of children in care and care leavers.
Children and young people whose cases were reviewed during this visit are seen regularly by their workers, and statutory requirements are met. More children have had their needs re-assessed, leading to better quality planning and improvement in outcomes for some children who have returned successfully to their birth families or are better supported in their placements.
However, many children still experience delay in their plan for permanence being implemented, and this causes some to experience further change or instability that prevents their outcomes from improving.
The report stated:
- Children who have a plan of adoption are not consistently matched and placed with adopters in a timely way. Where very young children are the subject of care proceedings, progress towards adoption is better.
- Most children seen who are in long-term foster placements are suitably matched, and many enjoy stable placements.
- The local authority has successfully completed the discharge of care orders via placement with parent regulations for 34 children in the last 12 months.
- There are a further 31 children identified as having this as their permanence option. During this visit, inspectors saw examples of strong, clear placement, with parents’ agreements and good support work to ensure that children were safe, and that their needs were met.
- The local authority has also identified 39 children who may benefit from living in special guardianship arrangements with their existing carers rather than being in care and in recent work seen, the assessments undertaken were effective, with high-quality support plans in place to help children living with special guardians.
- Achieving successful permanence for some children is made more difficult by their very complex life experiences and by previous poor social work practice.
- Social work practice with children in care has improved and there has been some increased stability in the workforce.
The report also noted that there are regular reviews of the support provided for children in care, and, for many, these reviews are well recorded and offer clear evidence of robust monitoring of the progress of plans. There has been an increase in the oversight that independent reviewing officers give to the progress of children’s plans, and some evidence of increased challenge.
There has been significant work to improve the service offered to all care leavers since the inspection in 2016, when the service was inadequate. There is evidence of regular supervision taking place in the care leavers’ team but recording of this is not sufficiently detailed or evaluative and does not always ensure actions are followed through or effectively monitored.