Too many children experience delays in Gloucestershire

Too many children referred to Gloucestershire children’s services experience delays in being seen by social workers, Ofsted has said.

Although the local authority has made improvements in the timeliness of responses to children in need of help or protection, the quality and consistency of practice is not yet good enough, the monitoring visit of Gloucestersire children's services found.

"Young people often experience delay in the identification of, and response to, unchanging or escalating risk, and in the progression of planning within timescales that provide them with the best opportunity to thrive," said the report.

While the local authority has been successful in establishing a permanent senior leadership team and a stable frontline team manager group, it continues to struggle to recruit and retain sufficient suitably qualified and experienced social work staff.

Due to the high turnover in staff, too many children and young people experience frequent changes of social worker, and this impacts negatively on the progression of plans. However, the vast majority of social workers have manageable caseloads and social workers spoken to during this inspection are positive about working for the local authority, feel supported by line managers and value the visibility and accessibility of senior managers.

Inspectors noted:

- In response to these challenges, the local authority has increased its social work establishment in the last six months and implemented its workforce strategy to recruit and retain staff.

- Despite staffing challenges, the local authority has evidenced improvement in a number of key quantitative performance measures. The number of children experiencing delays in being allocated to a social worker are low.

- The vast majority of assessments are now completed within national maximum timescales.

- The local authority has increased the number of child protection conference chairs and has introduced a comprehensive improvement programme for this group of staff.

- Staff morale within teams is good and social workers are positive about the support they receive from managers and the training that they have received.

- The range of performance management information and reports used by the senior leadership team to understand and monitor social work practice and performance are comprehensive and provide a clear and accurate picture of performance across the service.

However, the report also revealed that social work practice for young people in need of help and protection is too variable in quality and consistency. While some social workers are able to talk in detail about the circumstances of the young people with whom they work, this has not consistently translated in to effective or proactive planning.

Although the quality of assessments is improving, they are not always completed within timescales that reflect young people’s circumstances and do not yet contribute to effective planning for young people.

Action plans continue to be too variable in their quality and do not consistently inform effective care planning and decision-making.

"The local authority has continued to make incremental improvements. However, the foundations from which to deliver good-quality social work practice are not yet consistently in place and the pace of improvement continues to be too slow," the report concluded.

Monitoring visit of Gloucestershire children’s services

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