Kingston upon Hull is making insufficient progress in improving services for children in care that were judged to be requires improvement at the last inspection, Ofsted has said.
The progress and experiences of children in care have significantly declined and many children receive poor responses to their needs. Some children in care were found to be at risk of harm during this visit, which was the second monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in May 2019.
“Services for children in care have deteriorated since the last inspection. Leaders and managers have failed to appreciate the scale of the weaknesses and the resultant impact on children. Shortfalls identified at the time of the inspection have not been properly rectified,” the report said.
“The number of children in care has been rising very quickly, at a rate more than double the national average. Leaders have not analysed this rising trend to help them to respond appropriately and address the underlying issues. Too many children come into care in an emergency even though many of these children are known to services. Some children do not come into care quickly enough, leaving them at risk at home. Managers took immediate action to protect children when inspectors raised concerns about their welfare during the visit,” the report added.
Caseloads have increased for social workers, and they are now higher than they were at the last inspection. There are not enough local homes for children in care to suit their needs and, as a result, some children live in unsuitable and unregulated homes. Corporate parenting is not strong enough, nor sufficiently focused on what it means to be a child in care in Hull.
– Children in care receive highly variable and at times inadequate responses to their needs. Managers and IROs have failed to identify and escalate issues of concern.
– This has contributed to the decline in the quality of social work and affects the experiences and progress of children who recently came into care, as well as children who have been in care for a long time. Concerns about the quality of practice are widespread across a range of teams and services.
– There is insufficient management oversight to challenge drift, and to ensure that all children receive effective care planning and appropriate responses to their needs.
– Managers at every level have been ineffective in recognising the extent of the weaknesses and impact on children.
– Children come into care too late in Hull, and they are left for too long in situations where they experience harm from longstanding neglect.
– Assessments are not regularly updated, even when there are significant changes in children’s lives. Chronologies do not provide an understanding of children’s experiences to help meet their needs.
– Too many changes of social workers mean that children must tell their story repeatedly, and social workers do not always understand children’s histories. Children’s plans are not sufficiently specific and do not always identify actions to make progress and avoid delay.
– Life-story work is not routinely completed or updated.
– Risks to children are not well identified or well managed.
– A poor understanding of child exploitation and risks outside the family, and an absence of multi-agency strategy discussions result in weak responses to children who are vulnerable to exploitation.
– Increased caseloads and limited contact with children have hampered the ability of IROs to oversee children’s lives and escalate issues of concern.
– Permanence is not established in Hull. Tracking mechanisms are ineffective, resulting in children experiencing drift as permanence planning takes too long or is not considered.
– Placement choice and sufficiency is a real challenge for Hull, and too many children are not being offered the right home when they first need it. Placement matching decisions are not based on strength-based assessments of children’s needs and too many children experience changes in placements, creating uncertainty and instability.
– The recently refreshed sufficiency strategy is ambitious for Hull to continue to develop local homes. However, the strategy does not take into account the increasing diversity of the children in care population in Hull, nor does it provide sufficient investment to deliver its targets.
– Fostering recruitment targets have not been achieved, and the service has seen a reduction in the number of foster carers because larger numbers are leaving the service than are being recruited.
– Leaders do not have a good understanding of the demographics of their children in care population and, therefore, are not using this important information to forecast future needs.
– The fostering service does not meet minimum fostering standards. Children describe a lack of choice in their new homes; many experience poor introductions and are provided with little information about where they are going to live.
– There are not enough foster homes for children to live with their brothers and sisters when appropriate, or for those children with more specialist needs and complex challenging behaviour.
– Children are increasingly moving to semi-independent homes without enough consideration of their individual needs.
However, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children benefit from a specialist team that is improving their experiences and supporting stronger multi-agency engagement in identifying risk to inform placement decisions. Further, education support for children in care is mostly effective and children are supported to remain in their schools when placements are chosen.
The health needs of children in care are prioritised, but performance has deteriorated in the last year, with fewer children having timely health assessments or dental checks.
Investment in the dedicated looked after children and adolescent mental health services has reduced waiting times for those children with emotional and mental health needs, but there is no service to support foster carers to respond to the needs of children with complex needs. Therapeutic care is not always considered even when children’s needs appear high.