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Improvements sustained at Tower Hamlets, finds Ofsted

Improvements have been identified at the MASH in Tower Hamlets, but responses to children at risk of child sexual exploitation remain under-developed, Ofsted has found.

In a second monitoring visit since the authority was rated as inadequate in April last year, inspectors found Improvements in the multi-agency safeguarding hub have been sustained since the last monitoring visit in August. In cases sampled, thresholds for help and protection were appropriately applied, decision-making was timely and no children were identified as being at risk of immediate harm.

However, practice to understand and respond to risks to missing or sexually exploited children remains underdeveloped, inspectors found.

“A relentless focus by senior leaders on ensuring compliance with statutory requirements, such as visiting children at home, is starting to change the culture in children’s services,” said the report. “More team managers are making use of data to track the timeliness of interventions for children.”

The inspection focused on the quality of management decision-making in the MASH and the quality of assessments and plans. Inspectors found:

  • Improved performance management systems aligned to audit activity are increasingly holding social workers to account for the quality of their practice.
  • Social workers and their managers are much more focused on ensuring that children’s voices and their lived experiences are captured and acted on.
  • Managers are prioritising action to improve these weaker areas of practice.

Overall, most children benefit from the prompt allocation of cases to experienced social workers in the assessment and intervention teams. The quality of social work in the AI teams, while inconsistent, is improving, despite most social work caseloads being too heavy, the report warned.

The appointment of five additional agency workers to meet demand plus the restructuring of the family support and protection team is making a difference to children in need.

“This is a significant and positive change to the previously poor practice in these teams,” inspectors noted.

Staff were aware that the preferred social work model has changed, however, they struggled to articulate its replacement, which is leading to confusion and a lack of clarity regarding the assessment process.

The majority of social workers raised concerns with inspectors about their capacity to consistently produce the expected good-quality work, due to heavy caseloads.

The quality of assessments is improving from a low base, the report acknowledged, with social workers’ being more confident using direct work tools to assess and analyse risks to children is beginning to inform decisions about children’s ongoing plans.

Strategy meetings and section 47 enquiries are mainly effective and timely in the AI teams, and more cases are appropriately progressing to initial child protection case conferences.

However, children’s independent reviewing officers do not have sufficient oversight of practice and do not provide effective enough challenge, inspectors found.

Following the appointment of dedicated staff and increased joint working with the youth offending team, services for children missing from home and care and those sexually exploited or involved in gangs are actively being reviewed across the partnership. These vulnerable groups of children will be the focus of the next monitoring visit.

“In summary, it is encouraging that most improvements identified by the previous visit have been sustained and, in many cases, further improved,” the report concluded.

Monitoring visit of Tower Hamlets

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