The quality of decision-making when children are first referred for help or protection has declined at Swindon children’s services since the last inspection in 2014, Ofsted has found.
In a focused visit of the local authority’s arrangements at the first point of contact for children who need help and protection, inspectors found significant weaknesses in the responses that children receive.
“Social workers in the MASH do not always identify risk, and inspectors found some children at risk of harm. Many decisions made by social workers and managers are not sufficiently swift and do not take account of all relevant information,” said the report. “In some cases seen by inspectors, opportunities to intervene had been missed historically, and recently.”
Swindon’s children’s services were last inspected by Ofsted in 2014, when the overall effectiveness of services was judged to require improvement to be good.
Since the director of children’s services was appointed nine months ago, he has commissioned both internal and external reviews to assess the performance of the MASH, said the report. A well-targeted programme of improvement has begun, including the revision of early help pathways, increasing senior leadership capacity and management training for all managers, but these are not yet ensuring that the ‘front door’ is providing a consistently safe, well-targeted and timely response to children.
The DCS acknowledges that the service has lacked a culture of rigorous challenge and accountability by managers at all levels and is working to embed the use of performance information and quality assurance processes.
- Thresholds for intervention are not well understood by partners and are inconsistently applied by staff within the MASH.
- There are delays in children receiving support when their cases transfer between statutory and early help services.
- Risk to children is not identified in all cases.
- Rag ratings applied to referrals in the MASH do not always correctly reflect the level of risk, and, as a result, some children do not receive a timely response.
- Case recording is consistently poor.
- Referrals to the designated officer do not always receive a timely response.
- Management oversight in the MASH is poor.
- Quality assurance arrangements are under-developed.
However, social workers who spoke to inspectors report regular, reflective supervision and easy access to managers, including senior managers, who support them in their roles. Social workers describe manageable caseloads. The MASH is a stable team and most staff are permanent. Staff are able to access an improving suite of training opportunities.
Ofsted recommends the local authority takes swift and decisive action regarding the identification of risk and the quality of management oversight and decision-making in relation to safeguarding practice.
In order to improve social work practice, the local authority and partners through the local safeguarding children board need to improve the understanding of thresholds for referral to children’s services and the quality of information contained in referrals.
Managers’ use of performance information and quality assurance processes and the quality and timeliness of case recording and planning for children also need to improve, the report recommends.