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Improvements made at Tower Hamlets but practice still too variable

There are still considerable weaknesses in permanence planning and in assessments for children who cannot live with their parents in Tower Hamlets, Ofsted has warned.

While there has been improvement in key areas since the last inspection of Tower Hamlets and overall, the quality of practice with these vulnerable children is improving, but it is still too variable, inspectors said.

"Senior leaders agree with inspectors’ findings. They are determined to accelerate the pace of change and are taking appropriate action to address the significant deficits in the children in care services," said the report.

The inspection was the fourth monitoring visit since Tower Hamlets was judged inadequate for overall effectiveness in April 2017. Inspectors evaluated the quality of care planning for children in care, in particular the achievement of timely permanence arrangements for all children who are unable to live with their birth parents.

Management oversight of the permanence planning process is weak; some staff described it to inspectors as ‘ad hoc and fragmented’. Options for permanence are not considered simultaneously, which prolongs uncertainty for children. Contingency planning is poor which is building in delay for some children, including very young children.

Senior leaders acknowledge that more work is required to change the culture, as adoption or long-term foster care outside of the family are only considered when other options have been exhausted.

Inspectors found:

- Decisions about whether children should become looked after are now underpinned by effective and accessible legal advice, as clearly evidenced by the weekly focused and well-attended legal planning meetings which is a vast improvement.

- Improved performance management arrangements mean that senior leaders and frontline line managers are very knowledgeable about service performance.

- Caseloads are manageable and children in care are seen regularly by their social workers, who know them well.

- Long-term and short-term placement stability is beginning to improve. Since January 2018, the proportion of children who have had three or more placement moves has reduced from 14.2% to 11.5%.

- The co-location of a dedicated CAMHS professional with social workers is enabling children in care to access specialist help and support more quickly.

- The recently developed edge of care team, set up in November 2017, has been instrumental in decreasing demand for placements, particularly for older adolescents, and in reducing overall numbers of children in care.

- IROs have manageable caseloads, which enables them to deliver timely reviews for children in care.

However, when children come into care, only 22% of initial health assessments are completed within timescales. This has not improved since the inspection in 2017.

Assessments for children in care are not updated routinely, and too often, when cases are in court, the assessments focus on concerns about the parents. Too many children have not had an assessment for a number of years.

Management oversight, although evident in all cases, is not yet consistently leading to improved outcomes for all children in care.

"In summary, inspectors found progress in many areas of practice with children in care. Senior leaders accept inspectors’ findings and they are taking action to address the significant deficits identified during this visit," the report concluded.

Tower Hamlets monitoring visit

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