Staff feel supported by managers, who have improved staff morale at Northamptonshire, Ofsted has said.
Senior leaders are working hard to change the culture of social work in Northamptonshire and to create a positive environment for staff to continue to improve their practice, a focused visit to the authority found, adding that there is now an environment of “high challenge and high support”.
“Political support for children’s services continues to be strong, and the whole-system transformation plan that is underway is clearly focused on addressing capacity issues and supporting the retention of social workers,” said the report.
However, while no children were found to be at immediate risk of harm, the quality of early assessment and planning remains too variable, resulting in children and families too often experiencing delay in receiving the right support. There is a clear service improvement plan underway, and encouraging progress has been made.
The report highlighted:
- The quality of children’s assessments is not yet consistently good enough. In the majority of cases, the single assessment is timely and of sufficient quality to decide about threshold, however, too often single assessments lack depth.
- Assessments often lack consideration of absent parents, and extended families are not well engaged.
- Identity and diversity needs are poorly considered and are often not recorded at all.
- Child protection and child in need written plans need further improvement.
- Contingency plans are too generic and do not give sufficient attention to a family’s individual circumstances.
- When child protection plans end, the step down to child in need planning is not always effective.
- Caseloads are becoming more manageable, but continue to impact negatively on the quality of practice, particularly in Northampton.
- Social workers do not always receive supervision.
- Within the audit process, there is an overemphasis on compliance and a lack of focus on quality.
However, inspectors highlighted that most assessments have multi-agency input and stronger assessments reflect the child’s voice and their day-to-day experiences to inform analysis and planning. Positive examples of pre-birth assessments are clear on risks, use history well to inform analysis, and result in swift, effective action to safeguard new-born babies.
The vast majority of social workers spoken to know their children and families well, and see children regularly and alone. Decisions about whether a child requires further support from the safeguarding teams following a first response assessment are appropriate and proportionate.
The quality assurance framework is detailed, with a high number of different audit tools in place, inspectors noted.
In order to improve social work practice, Northamptonshire needs to focus on the quality of assessments and plans as they are too variable. Assessments often lack depth, and sometimes miss consideration of wider risk factors.
Initial plans often lack any detail and are not always clear about how children or families are going to be supported and the authority should tackle this.
Supervision is not always taking place regularly or is not always prioritised. Management oversight and direction is not always reflected in the case record and does not sufficiently drive progress.
Caseloads remain too high and need to be reduced as this is impacting negatively on the quality of practice in some teams, and there is a risk that children in need work is overlooked in those teams.
The quality assurance framework is too complex and audit activity is not reliably providing the right information to help drive improvement. Managers need to know what ‘good’ looks like consistently and need to be helped to challenge more effectively when practice is not good enough.