Hertfordshire has made little progress in improving the quality of practice for children in need and those subject to a child protection plan since the last inspection, Ofsted has said.
There remain areas of concern identified at the last inspection in relation to children in need and child protection services that have not been resolved, the focused visit where inspectors looked at the local authority’s arrangements for children in need and children subject to a child protection plan found.
"Despite ongoing investment by senior leaders, children in need and child protection social work services remain challenged by vacancies as well as turnover of staff and ongoing difficulties in attracting experienced staff. Supervision of staff is inconsistent in quality and, when considering casework, does not provide good enough guidance or an overview of progress. While no child was seen to be left at significant risk and without intervention, child protection plans are not sufficiently focused on the links between parents’ actions and the impact on the child, making it more difficult for parents to understand their responsibilities," said the report.
- Senior managers have taken steps to better understand the quality of services and what needs to be done to improve services in Herefordshire.
- Both children in need (CIN) and child protection work is supported by a family support service working in social work teams. This work is valued and provides additional skills in parenting assessments and a range of direct work with families.
- In both children in need and child protection cases, risk to children is clearly identified, and no child was seen to be left at significant risk and without intervention.
- Child protection reviews are timely and well attended by multi-agency professionals.
- In the children with disabilities team, CIN plans are better tailored and responsive to children’s needs.
- A quality assurance framework is in place and is providing accurate information to the local authority in relation to practice standards and compliance.
- There has been a significant strategic focus by the local authority since the last inspection on contextual safeguarding, and, in particular, peer-on-peer abuse and ensuring that there are appropriate responses to risk in this area.
However, the current court and child protection service that works with the large majority of children in need and those on a child protection plan is struggling to provide consistently good services to children and families. These teams are under pressure from too many staff changes, including changes in team managers, and a fourth head of service in 18 months. A third of staff are agency staff, and turnover is high, with a large number of inexperienced and newly qualified staff. This has had a significant impact on the ability of senior managers to ensure a consistent quality of practice in these teams.
There are significant gaps in the frequency of recorded supervision, and, in too many instances, social workers are unable to refer to clear guidance on how cases should progress and by when. In some instances, supervision on cases is not evidenced for many months. In some cases, there is evidence of drift and delay in progression of plans, which is compounded by a lack of supervision and poor handover of cases, particularly when staff have left with little notice.
There are waiting lists of up to four months for both family group conferences and allocation of work to family support staff. In some instances, such waits for intervention fail to take into account the priority of the case and actively impede the possibility of progress in cases, leading to delays in achieving key goals in plans.
Issues of neglect are not always recognised quickly enough, and the graded care profile to help identify neglect and poor parenting is not being used consistently to help measure progress. In a few cases, thresholds were not correctly applied, and some children were subject to child protection plans when it would have been more appropriate for them to have been subject to CIN plans.
Child protection plans are often too parent-orientated and focused on what they must do. This is not linked to the impact on the child or to how matters will be made better for the child as a result of the plans.
The caseloads of newly qualified social workers with a year or less of experience show little evidence of protection. This is in relation to absolute numbers: one new social worker has been in post for only eight weeks and has 19 cases. It is also in relation to types of case allocated. Several newly qualified social workers were seen to have complex cases in care proceedings and on child protection plans.
Expectations of and responsibilities put on these staff are too great, and there is risk that they will have a poor experience of Herefordshire local authority and the support it offers. The consequent risk is that these social workers will not stay, and this will exacerbate current staffing difficulties.
Ofsted recommends that Herefordshire addresses the frequency and quality of supervision offered to staff. The prioritisation of family support work for those children and families most in need of this service needs improvement.
Child protection plans need to be written in order to ensure that children are clearly identified as the focus of actions to reduce risk.
The support offered to newly qualified social work staff needs improving, including a review of case holding expectations and responsibilities.
Herefordshire should also address the timeliness of actions taken in order to address deficits identified in case audit activity.