Senior managers at Newcastle children's services have embraced the learning from the last Ofsted inspection in May 2017, inspectors found in their latest focused visit.
The inspection, which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for the ‘front-door’, the Initial Response Service (IRS), which receives both single and multi-agency contacts and referrals, found managers to be 'resolute' in continuing to improve the quality of practice so that children get the right help at the right time.
"Senior managers know their services well through enhanced performance information and robust quality assurance of front-line practice. This is improving service responsiveness and ensures that services for children and families are maintained at a time when demand has increased sharply," said the report.
Senior managers recognise that there is more work to do to improve the consistency in approach at the front door so that all children receive an effective social work response. Plans are in place to address this, the report added.
- There is a timely and appropriate response to most contacts and referrals.
- The MASH in Newcastle is well established, providing effective multi-agency information-sharing through mature partnerships.
- Almost all decisions seen about the threshold for services are appropriate.
- For most children seen, appropriate systems ensure a timely transition from statutory services to early help.
- Social workers quickly identify children at risk of significant harm.
- Decisions to undertake child protection investigations are appropriate.
However, the report noted that referrals from partners do not always provide sufficient information to allow workers to determine children’s needs. Early help assessments and plans vary in quality.
Children and family assessments are timely and are improving but are not of sufficiently high quality.
Senior managers are responsive to the rise in demand for services and have increased the number of social workers recently. Despite this, social workers in IRS hold high caseloads. Senior managers fully understand that if the current trajectory in demand for service continues, it could undermine the progress already made to improving practice.
Supervision of social workers in IRS is regular but does not sufficiently focus on what is needed to progress planning for children. Risk is not routinely reviewed to inform decisions.
In order to improve social work practice, Newcastle should focus on improving practitioners’ understanding and recognition of the cumulative impact of long-term neglect and emotional harm.
The recording of information to be shared, defined risks, rationale for decision-making, actions to be taken and timescales within strategy discussions. The screening of children’s overall needs in decisions to undertake further assessment also needs addressing.
Further, out-of-hours information-gathering practice needs improvement in order to inform decisions, particularly in verifying information from parents.
Caseload allocations need tackling in order to enable social workers to undertake consistently good work. Assessment of life events, children’s relationships with their families and issues of diversity and culture also needs work.