Joint working in Wirral between children's services, health and police has been criticised by Ofsted.
In the seventh monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in September 2016, inspectors said the local authority is making progress in improving social work support in some areas of services for children in need of help and protection.
"However, there are some areas of joint working with health and police services that are poor, and this is a risk to children. The local authority is aware and is working with its statutory partners to resolve these deficiencies," said the report.
Police and children’s social care staff do not share information well enough or plan together to ensure that children’s needs can be met in a timely way because criminal investigations sometimes take priority over the safeguarding plan for the child. This has resulted in delays in children’s needs being assessed fully and met, the report added.
Furthermore, most strategy meetings lack information or attendance by any health professional which is not compliant with statutory guidance, and means that decisions are potentially made on incomplete information.
The visit focused on on the experiences and progress of children who had recently been the subject of safeguarding referrals and initial child protection conferences (ICPCs).
At the time of the inspection in 2016, the judgement for the experiences of children who need help and protection was that it was inadequate. At this monitoring visit, inspectors found evidence of progress in relation to the local authority’s response to children who need protection through a child protection plan.
Ofsted said it is encouraging that earlier poor assessments and weak practice in a few cases had been recognised, resulting in remedial action and fresh assessments and support being provided for children. The quality of social work practice in each case was effective and making a difference.
- Thresholds for child protection enquiries are appropriately applied.
- The format and guidance for ICPCs has improved, and minutes show that the areas of concern are explicit.
- Family members are encouraged to attend conferences and are well supported when they do so.
- Core groups are well attended and include parents.
- Social workers understand and recognise risk factors in children’s lives, for example the impact of domestic abuse on non-abusive parents and their children.
- Inspectors also saw social workers maintaining appropriate levels of professional curiosity.
- All social workers, team managers and IROs spoken to know the children and their circumstances well.
However, two examples were seen where children have been stepped down from social care support to early help services but have then been quickly re-referred to social care. The report said it is "a concern" that the children were stepped down prematurely, but the clear route for early help services meant that these children were promptly escalated and received appropriate support.
The timeliness of conferences is poor, with only 65.5% occurring within statutory timescales.
Children receive appropriate support services promptly, apart from those referred for child and adolescent mental health services, where a 12-week waiting list was noted.