There is still considerable work to do to improve the quality of practice delivered to children in need of help and protection at Tameside, Ofsted has found.
While the local authority has taken action to address the previously slow pace of improvement, with some early signs of success, these changes have not yet had a sufficient impact on the service that children receive.
“The local authority has recognised the need to increase the pace of improvement,” said the report highlighting that in September, the roles of director of children’s services and director of adult services were separated leading to a dedicated DCS post. An experienced interim DCS was appointed in October 2017 and since their appointment, the DCS has led work to re-evaluate the current position and accelerate improvement.
The fourth monitoring visit of Tameside since it was judged to be inadequate in December 2016 and which focused on child protection arrangements found that there has been an increase in the number of social work posts. Although this work has created a greater potential for improvement, the impact of this is not yet evident in the quality of social work practice, inspectors found.
Inspectors highlighted that children at risk of harm are identified and immediate action is taken to keep them safe. Strategy discussions take place, and are recorded on children’s files. This is an improvement compared to work seen during the inspection. However, the discussions are usually between social care and police without involving other agencies.
Decisions to undertake child protection investigations are now recorded and action is taken to keep children safe. The quality of this work is hampered by poor analysis and planning, which sometimes prevent investigations from being carried out effectively.
Assessments are completed in a timely way for all children, but there has not been a consistent improvement in the quality of practice. The vast majority of assessments seen by inspectors only focused on the single presenting issue, and had significant gaps in their evaluation of history. As a result, the analysis of risk and the analysis of parenting capacity continues to be weak.
Child in need and child protection plans are now in place for most children, and regular reviews are taking place. But written plans are not child focused enough, and do not have clear outcomes, actions and timescales.
All children’s cases reviewed during the visit showed some improvement in children being seen and spoken to as part of casework. In addition, children’s records seen during this visit showed improvement in the managers’ oversight of casework.
Managers and social workers demonstrate commitment to, and enthusiasm for, their work, and feel more optimistic about progress because of recent developments. Although caseloads remain high in some teams, all have been reduced since the last monitoring visit meaning that workloads are more manageable for many social workers. The permanent workforce is stabilising.
The weaknesses in practice identified by inspectors during this visit are known to the local authority. Since the last monitoring visit in September 2017, the local authority has produced two thematic audit reports that accurately evaluate practice. This included a thematic audit of child protection work, where the findings were similar to those of the inspectors on this monitoring visit.
“This means that the improvement plan is now based on a more accurate understanding of the work required. This provides a sound basis to learn from and for future practice improvement,” the report concludes.