Kingston-upon-Hull Council has failed to deliver the improvements needed, specifically to children’s circumstances and experiences, since the last inspection, Ofsted has warned.
Rating the authority as 'inadequate', Ofsted said that following the appointment of a new director of children's services, some important aspects of leadership have strengthened.
However, the actions that leaders have taken have not sufficiently addressed the weaknesses in frontline practice and management oversight, in particular for children in need of help and protection.
"There are widespread and serious failures in the recognition of risk and in the quality of social work practice for children in need of help and protection. A lack of authoritative practice by social workers and managers means that risk and need are not identified quickly enough for too many children. Arrangements to safeguard children with specific vulnerabilities, such as disabled children, children living in private fostering arrangements, and 16-year-old homeless children, are ineffective," said the report.
There has been very recent improvement to the experiences of children in care and care leavers. However, they are not yet receiving consistently good help to promote their well-being and improve their outcomes.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection was rated as inadequate. Inspectors highlighted:
- Services for children in need of help and protection are inadequate because failure to recognise risk is leaving some children in harmful situations, or at risk of harm, for too long.
- Too many children do not get the help they need at the right time. Widespread drift and delay in planning for children means that risk and need are not identified and addressed quickly or specifically enough.
- Manager oversight of the work in EHASH when it first enters children’s services is too often vague and lacking in direction, particularly oversight of work undertaken by the referral officers.
- Too many children are re-referred to children’s services because risks and needs arising from repeat parental behaviours were not sufficiently identified or met the first time.
- Senior leaders have recognised that social work practice across teams varies in both quality and impact.
- The lack of child focus in assessments results in written plans that fail to improve children’s situations.
- When children’s circumstances do not improve, assertive, timely action is not always taken to escalate to pre-proceedings under the public law outline (PLO).
- Senior leaders have correctly recognised that practice for children who go missing from home or care is weak.
- Thresholds for safeguarding for disabled children are not clearly understood or applied.
- Many children with other additional vulnerabilities are not receiving effective help.
- Homeless 16-year-olds are not provided with a child-centred response which focuses on risk.
However, the report states that by contrast, 17- and 18-year-olds receive a more robust service by the Targeted Youth Support service.
Referrals for a social work service are made through the Early Help and Safeguarding Hub (EHASH). When contacts are received, EHASH deals with them in a timely way.
Further, when children are at immediate risk of significant harm, the response is timely and proportionate. The child sexual exploitation team provides effective direct support and intervention for children who are at risk of sexual and criminal exploitation.
Domestic abuse features significantly in social work caseloads. Referrals are progressed appropriately where there is information about immediate risk of significant harm. Value is added in the EHASH by the presence of the Domestic Abuse Partnership (DAP) workers to provide information or take referrals for early help. Children and adults benefit from services when domestic abuse is a feature of their lives.
When children’s risks escalate to child protection case conferences, effective multi-agency representation results in detailed discussion about risks and how they affect individual children within the family.
Some children and families who require low-level or targeted support are benefiting from effective early help delivered through locality-based services, including children’s centres and targeted youth services. The strength of early help is in relationship-based practice.
However, the quality of written assessments and plans is weak.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers requires improvement to be good. The report highlights:
- Services for children in care had deteriorated following the last inspection.
- While services have recently begun to improve, there is much more to do to work through a legacy of poor practice.
- Assessments of children after they first come into care are not regularly updated.
- There has been a legacy of a lack of urgency to secure permanence for children. Inspectors found a number of children living in long-term placements with connected carers who have not been fully assessed, and with temporary approval.
- The timeliness of care proceedings has improved but does not meet statutory timescales of 26 weeks in all cases.
- The IROs have high caseloads made up of both child protection and children in care cases.
- Transition planning for older disabled children who are looked after has been negatively impacted by delays in procuring accommodation with adult services.
- Health assessments for children in care are not always timely.
However, senior managers have recognised that there is an increasing complexity in children’s needs when they come into care. As a result, recent investment was made in an edge of care service, and this is starting to make a positive difference. Most children live in good placements, where their needs are well met.
Fostering services are improving from a low base. There is a commitment to pursuing adoption for children, including those who are considered to have more challenging needs in family finding, for example brothers and sisters together or older age children.
Family practitioners, based within social work teams, are highly valued by social workers. Considerable value is also added by the council’s local offer team, which is enabling care leavers to access a wider choice of employment and leisure opportunities.
The dedicated pathways team, which has been newly formed specifically to undertake pathway assessment and planning, is showing some early positive impact on the delivery of plans, although there is more to do on improving their quality.
Inspectors said the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families requires improvement to be good. In particular they highlighted:
- Since the last inspection in 2015, there has been a significant deterioration in performance of children’s services. The ‘getting to good’ improvement plan produced following the inspection did not deliver the level of improvement required.
- A significant area of challenge for senior managers is affecting the cultural shift within the workforce to create an environment focused on improving basic social work practice.
- Despite considerable investment and the restructuring of frontline service delivery, there are significant weaknesses in the response to children who need help and protection.
- While the training offer has been enhanced and is valued by staff, it is not yet delivering improvements in the quality and consistency of social work practice or management oversight.
- Placement sufficiency in the local area continues to be a challenge, particularly for children with complex needs.
However, the report highlights that the DCS has the full support and confidence of the chief executive and politicians. Senior leaders recognise what has been achieved in improving service delivery, but also recognises that there remains more to do. The DCS has taken time to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of the workforce, the needs of the local communities and the areas of greatest need.
Early help, EHASH and the care leavers service have been strengthened, and an edge of care service has been developed. Frontline management capacity has increased, and social work caseloads have been reduced.
Improved performance information has helped to secure much greater engagement and understanding of the challenges faced in children’s social care from senior leaders and politicians. However, progress has begun to stall.
Starting from a low base, there is now an improved quality assurance and performance framework to provide the context and focus for improvement.
A developing corporate parenting culture is raising the profile of the needs of children in care and care leavers and is resulting in higher aspirations and ambitions than previously. The new lead portfolio holder for children, who is being mentored through the Local Government Association, is putting children and young people at the heart of service development and raising the profile of their voice in scrutiny.
Kingston upon Hull should address weakness in social work practice in the identification and response to risk and the understanding of the impact on children of their adverse experiences. The response to children with specific vulnerabilities, including disabled children, children in private fostering arrangements, and homeless 16-year-olds also needs strengthening.
Multi-agency child protection work, including strategy meetings, child protection enquiries and the initial child protection plans and core groups needsto improve, said Ofsted, as does the quality of children’s assessments and plans.
Frontline managers’ oversight and challenge to consistently drive the progress of children’s cases should be prioritised and rigour, timeliness, and senior management oversight of work in pre-proceedings should be improved to drive permanence planning for children.
Ofsted also recommends that scrutiny and oversight of practice by managers and the independent conference and review officers (ICROs) needs work in driving children’s plans to improve their outcomes.
The quality of return home interviews needs improvement to inform individual planning for children and strategic planning and the authority should address the sufficiency of local placements, to meet the needs of children in care and care leavers.
Finally, the report concludes that Hull should develop quality assurance, including auditing practice in order to improve social work practice.