An increased number of children at risk of child sexual exploitation in Bury have been identified by children's services and provided with help and support, Ofsted has said.
In a focused visit of Bury children's services, inspectors looked at the local authority’s arrangements for providing help and protection for vulnerable adolescents. Inspectors considered the response to children at risk of sexual and criminal exploitation and those who go missing from home or from care.
Bury children’s services were inspected by Ofsted in 2016, when the overall effectiveness of the service was judged to require improvement to be good, with the experiences of children in need of help and protection judged to be good. At this time, Bury had low numbers of children identified as being at risk of exploitation, and services were judged to be ‘robust and improving’.
However, the local authority’s self-assessment prior to the Ofsted focused visit acknowledged that the experience and progress of children in need of help and protection has declined since the inspection in 2016.
Quality assurance and audit activity over the last year has been focused on trying to ensure that there is compliance with basic requirements. This has supported some improvements in practice with children, such as more regular visits to children and all children now having their needs assessed and a written plan. However, there has been insufficient success in addressing issues in the quality of practice, and, as a result, the quality of most of the services reviewed during this visit needs further improvement.
"A complex safeguarding team (CST) has been developed in Bury as part of the wider Greater Manchester approach to supporting vulnerable adolescents. The development of this service has reacted to changing demand and has delivered good outcomes for some children, but there is not an up-to-date and coherent strategic approach to support this. As a result, the response to children is not consistently well co-ordinated to ensure that they get the right service at the right time," said the report.
"There are examples of good-quality practice with some children, which reduces risk and enables them to make good progress. For other children, the weaknesses in the quality of basic social work practice, such as assessments and care plans, mean that the impact of any specialist support or intervention is limited and support and intervention are therefore less effective in reducing risk," the report added.
The focused visit highlighted:
- Over the last six months, the CST has widened its remit to include criminal exploitation, and has accepted referrals for children who have needs at all levels. These developments have evolved without the benefit of a coherent strategic approach or operating model. As a result, there is lack of clarity about the role and function of the team and about which children it should be working with.
- Over half of the children receiving support from a social worker in the CST are not subject to a multi-agency plan. Some of these children have wider needs and the support they receive would be more effectively coordinated by an early help plan.
- Risk assessments completed by CST are comprehensive and of good quality and they are reviewed regularly to understand if risks to children are decreasing.
- The quality of child and family assessments is not consistently good, and, for a small number of children, significant gaps leave unassessed risk and potential for further harm.
- Assessments of children’s needs do not routinely contain evidence of their views or lead to a full understanding of their lived experience.
- Children's needs in respect of their identity are not consistently recognised and responded to. For some children, who have needs in respect of their gender identity, this is considered well and responded to sensitively. For others, including those from ethnic minority backgrounds, their identity is only superficially considered within assessments and this does not result in effective consideration of these needs as part of planning.
- Social workers know children who are in care well, and in many cases have been the child’s social worker for a long time. For other children, social workers do try to build effective relationships, but the level of staff turnover in some teams means that some children have had too many social workers and the relationships are not meaningful.
- CST social workers undertake direct work with children, and, for many, this is supportive and helps them to understand the risks they are experiencing, or the impact of their family’s neglect or abuse.
- For those children at risk of exploitation who have a child in need, child protection or child in care plan, these plans are reviewed regularly. However, in many of the cases, plans are not focused on outcomes, and it would not be clear to children or families what needs to improve or change.
- Children who go missing are quickly offered a return home interview. However, when there are delays, it is not clearly recorded what the reason for this is and it is therefore not clear why the young person has not been seen more quickly.
- When children go missing repeatedly, strategy meetings are well attended by relevant partners, who share information and accurately identify current risks. In some cases, information gained from these meetings is not robustly followed through to explore or address the concerns identified.
- Children at risk of child exploitation or going missing who have additional needs relating to their education are considered well.
- When concerns are raised about adults who work with children, the local authority response is not consistently timely or effective. There is insufficient capacity to respond effectively to the concerns, with demand increasing significantly over the last four years.
- The partnership has considered a number of serious incidents involving teenagers over the last six months and has made appropriate decisions to commission three serious case reviews and one further learning review. However, emerging key themes regarding the response to neglect of adolescents, and the response of health services, have not yet led to a review of practice or resulted in any positive changes for children.
- Management oversight is evident on children’s files, but this is mostly brief, and task focused and does not lead to good-quality social work practice with children.
"Current caseloads across many teams are high, with half of social workers working with over 20 children, and a small number with up to 28 children. Social workers are completing basic requirements, but many do not have sufficient time to undertake meaningful direct work and build positive relationships with children," the report concluded.
In order to improve practice, Bury should improve the quality of assessments and plans for children, to include effective analysis of the impact of historic neglect and abuse. The strategic approach to working with vulnerable adolescents should be addressed to provide a more consistent approach to children at risk of exploitation.
Timely and effective responses should be made to concerns about adults who work with children by a designated officer.
The effectiveness of management oversight and quality assurance activity should also improve to evaluate the quality of practice, the experiences and progress of children and to identify areas for improvement.
Focused visit to Bury local authority children’s services