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Inconsistency in practice at Wolverhampton

There is inconsistency in social work practice within locality teams in Wolverhampton children's services, Ofsted has said.

A focused visit to the City of Wolverhampton council children’s services in September explained that children in need and those on child protection plans are allocated a social worker in one of eight locality team hubs.

"Inconsistency of practice both within and between locality teams means that while some children and families receive good social work intervention, too many children’s plans are characterised by insufficient purpose and progress in meeting needs," said the report.

Many children’s assessments in locality teams are not updated in the light of emerging needs. Social workers do not spend enough time with children to build trusting relationships to inform their work with families, and plans do not set out well enough how children and families will be helped, and how their needs will be met within timescales appropriate for children. This means that in some cases children are not receiving a good enough service and that they wait too long for their circumstances to improve.

In a small minority of cases seen, assessments had been recently updated with the support of advanced practitioners. These assessments were of good quality, with clear insights into the lived experience of children, identifying strengths and areas of concern, involving parents and using the local authority’s restorative practice approach.

Inspectors highlighted:

- The location of assessment teams alongside the multi-agency sharing hub (MASH) enables a smooth and timely transition without delay for cases progressing from referral to assessment.

- Threshold decisions are appropriate in most cases and are informed by strong multi-agency information sharing.

- Where children are at risk of significant harm, effective action is taken to ensure that they are safe.

- The quality of assessments undertaken by assessment teams is consistently good.

- Pre-birth assessments carried out by designated social workers in one of the locality teams are a strength.

- The morale of social workers in their first year of practice in these teams is high as they have the benefit of reduced and protected caseloads.

- Management oversight in the assessment teams is evident in all cases, and this results in timely, good-quality assessments.

- Supervision records are clear and reflective.

However, where there are indicators of potential child sexual exploitation, social workers do not make early enough use of a specialist screening tool when assessments are first being completed.
Delays in potential child sexual exploitation risks and vulnerabilities being recognised and addressed mean that risks may escalate unchecked.

Also, plans are not sufficiently clear and they lack clear enough objectives and timescales and progress is difficult to measure.

Child protection plans are too variable in quality and inconsistency in the detail of plans drafted at child protection conferences means that many lack sufficient detail and clear purpose, although better examples include specific objectives and desired outcomes.

Core groups and child in need planning meetings are held regularly for most children. Key participants attend most multi-agency meetings and information is shared and updated, but plans are not sufficiently developed as more becomes known about families.

"Social workers in some locality teams experienced excessively high caseloads until very recently, including social workers in their first year of practice. This has impacted on social workers’ ability to see children enough and the quality of work with families. Staff have raised this with managers, but it was not addressed by managers quickly enough," the report concluded.

Focused visit to City of Wolverhampton council children’s services

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