Children and young people in Croydon are beginning to receive a better quality of service, and the pace of improvement is accelerating, according to Ofsted.
The sixth monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in September 2017 found the leadership provided by the executive director and the director of early help and children’s social care has resulted in an acceleration of pace and progress over the last six months.
“They have a strong and clear understanding of practice in Croydon and are taking concerted action to address any barriers to progress. Senior leaders are confidently setting out a clear and ambitious vision for the future, while simultaneously addressing immediate areas for improvement. There is considerable political support for continued improvement, including significant financial investment to support wholescale change,” said the report.
Impact can be seen in the improvements to the overall quality of practice for children, including disabled children, as shown through accurate and insightful service reviews, individual case audits of children’s experiences and stronger performance in measuring compliance. Leaders have a comprehensive understanding of what is happening for children and are leading by example, including being involved in individual case discussion when appropriate. Staff report feeling valued and well supported and caseloads have been reduced to a manageable level. Staff have confidence in the senior leaders and speak very highly of them, describing them as visible, available and acting on feedback.
Inspectors reviewed the progress made in the areas of ervices for children at the ‘front door’, services for disabled children, and services for children who are privately fostered.
– Services for children at the ‘front door’, through the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), have consistently been a stronger area of practice in Croydon. Significant structural changes, including the implementation of a single front door (the single point of contact, known as the SPOC) have resulted in further improvements.
– Partners in the SPOC spoke positively about the steadily improving practice. Working relationships are effective and partners feel valued as MASH colleagues, describing a culture in which they can challenge and be challenged.
– Thresholds are broadly understood by referring partners, although the volume of contacts and referrals is high, and ongoing work is taking place with partner agencies to ensure that contacts and referrals are appropriate.
– Children’s needs are responded to quickly and are appropriately prioritised according to risk.
– The early help offer, which is relatively new, provides a helpful alternative, ensuring that children and their families are supported or stepped down to a non-statutory service if this best meets their needs, and this is being increasingly used as a suitable option.
– Repeat referrals are decreasing, although senior managers are aware that this continues to be an area requiring ongoing attention.
– Management oversight and sign-off are visible at each stage in the SPOC service, and managers ensure that the consideration of children’s needs progresses smoothly and promptly.
– Strategy discussions take place within the SPOC service in a timely way and with consistent multi-agency representation.
– Caseloads have significantly reduced since the first monitoring visit, to an average caseload of 18 children, and the quality of practice has markedly improved.
– The threshold for assessment is appropriate for the majority of children, and children are seen in a timely way.
– Although some key performance measures have improved, the quality of practice is still inconsistent. In some cases, assessments and plans have not benefited from consideration of each child’s history, and chronologies are not purposeful.
– Although casework shows an appropriate understanding of thresholds, the proportion of cases that are deemed ‘no further action’ for both referrals into the SPOC service and for children who have had an assessment in the assessment service is high.
– Services for disabled children were moved back to children’s social care from adult services this year and have recently been reviewed. The review provided an accurate and comprehensive understanding of the service, which undertakes a wide range of complex work, including statutory social work.
– The local authority has not fulfilled its statutory responsibilities for children who are privately fostered, and this area of practice is poor. Visits to children and assessments have not been completed within expected timescales.
“Senior leaders continue to give very high priority to the recruitment and retention of staff. This is reaping some rewards, but remains a challenge. Overall, the vacancy rate is 40%, but this reaches 80% in the assessment teams. Inspectors met skilled and committed locums, both new and longstanding, who are fulfilling these roles, but this remains an area of vulnerability,” the report said.
“In summary, the local authority is now making sustained progress under the rigorous drive and direction of the current senior leaders, with some clear indicators of improvement. Pace has accelerated, practice for children is becoming consistently better and staff feel appreciated and supported,” the report concluded.