Senior leaders focused on improving children’s services at Newcastle

Senior leaders at Newcastle have been resolute in their focus to improve children’s services, Ofsted has found.

At the last Ofsted inspection of Newcastle upon Tyne children’s services, in April 2017, the overall effectiveness of the service was judged to require improvement to be good. Senior leaders have recognised that the model of social work delivery was not responsive enough to changing demands and service pressures. It was restructured early this year to support continuous improvement and the ambition to provide consistently good and outstanding services for children.

“Senior leaders have received significant support from councillors and the chief executive and financial investment. At the time of this visit, senior managers had made significant strides in creating a more stable workforce. They had increased capacity through additional social work teams, and reduced caseloads to a manageable level, enabling social workers to build effective relationships and undertake meaningful direct work,” said the report of the focused visit to Newcastle which concentrated on the local authority’s arrangements for children in need and those subject to a child protection plan.

Social workers and managers are positive about the changes and the benefits to their work and practice with families, the report added. Assessments are child-focused and mostly of a good quality. However, most plans are overly task-focused and fail to consider what outcomes they want to achieve to improve the child’s circumstances. This means that social workers are measuring success by looking at whether a task has been completed rather than whether the child’s circumstances have changed. Direct work is helping social workers to understand children’s experiences, although their voice is not as well articulated in assessments and plans.

Inspectors highlighted:

– Senior leaders and managers understand well the changing needs of the local community, recognising the increasing complexity of the needs of children and families.

– The robust performance management is ensuring improved compliance so that work is being completed within the timescales that are right for the child.

– When there are heightened concerns about children or increases in risk, strategy meetings ensure that appropriate action is taken to safeguard children. Child protection enquiries and assessments demonstrate a clear purpose, course of action and rationale for decision-making.

– A range of assessments, including pre-birth, parenting and viability assessments, evidence a well-written analysis of risk that results in clear and appropriately focused recommendations.

– Children are benefiting from some creative and meaningful direct work undertaken by social workers using a range of tools and activities, some of which they develop and are bespoke according to need.

– Children in need plans are regularly reviewed by the care team. Although there is a lack of focus on outcomes, care teams monitor the progress against the tasks and effectively identify future actions.

– Managers provide a clear rationale for decisions. Social workers feel well supported and value regular supervision.

– Senior leaders were aware of the drift and delay arising from ineffectual monitoring of the work in the PLO and have introduced a more proactive legal planning process with revised and robust tracking.

– Where children at risk of abuse and neglect are on the edges of care, a specialist team adds significant value to social workers’ plans to keep them safely within their own family.

– Senior managers and leaders have a good understanding of frontline practice through a comprehensive performance data set and quality assurance framework.

– Social workers and managers are positive about the new restructure and the further plans to capitalise on the improvements that have already been achieved through the implementation of a relational family valued model.

However, while there is a strong emphasis in child protection case conferences on risk and identifying safety goal, the goals are not always outcome-based and are not meaningfully time-bound to ensure effective monitoring of the plan.

Assessments clearly identify and analyse risks to children, but they do not lead to plans of similar quality, the report found.

In a small number of child protection enquiries, there is too narrow a focus on the presenting issue so that wider issues and all risks to children are not always considered. In a small number of cases, there was a missed opportunity to conduct joint enquiries to manage risk more effectively.

The current electronic case management system, which is planned to be replaced next year, does not provide an accurate and up-to-date record of children’s circumstances. This is because not all children’s case records are uploaded in a timely way. Sometimes there is only partial uploading or records are not replicated on all children of the family. The director of children’s services gave assurances that this would be addressed immediately and ahead of the implementation of the new system.

In order to improve, Newcastle should ensure social work plans demonstrate a clear focus on the child’s progress and the impact and outcome of interventions. There should be representation of the child’s voice and their wishes and feelings.
Supervision should be improved to reflect on the impact and quality of practice, to ensure that the work is focused on outcomes for the child and to monitor whether actions identified through supervision and auditing have been taken.

The electronic management system should be improved to ensure that it is fit for purpose and reflects an accurate and up-to-date record of the work on individual children’s cases, the report concludes.

Focused visit to Newcastle upon Tyne children’s services

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