Senior managers at Wakefield have continued to work tirelessly on building and strengthening the foundations to improve services for children in need of help and protection.
Senior managers have focused on developing the right service structures, and increasing staffing, in order to enable social workers to focus on core practice, the third monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate found.
As a result, significantly improved recording is supporting stronger performance monitoring and quality assurance. Improved management oversight at all levels is helping to sustain better performance in critical areas, added Ofsted.
“Positively, inspectors identified some areas of improving core social work practice, including some assessments, and routine multi-agency planning, which is ensuring that some children have their needs well met. The co-located children vulnerable to exploitation team is having a positive impact on completing return home interviews and identifying risk,” said the report which reviewed the progress being made for children in need and those subject to a child protection plan.
However, although management oversight is improving, not all frontline managers and child protection chairs challenge weak social work practices or ensure that timely authoritative action is taken when change is not achieved. In some cases, managers and child protection chairs do not fully reflect on or help social workers to recognise all areas of risk. Most plans are not good enough, and, as a result, planning is not strong enough to bring about the necessary changes for some children.
- Since the last inspection, considerable financial investment has supported a large and rapid expansion in social work locality teams and increased social work capacity at all levels.
- Reduced caseloads are better supporting social workers to focus on core social work practice.
- All social workers spoke positively about the support and accessibility of managers and senior managers, reporting a significant change in service culture to one now where their views are sought, and they feel valued.
- Case recording has significantly improved. Senior managers have successfully tackled widespread recording deficiencies through extensive data cleansing, enhancing the current recording system capabilities, while simultaneously addressing poor and previously accepted recording practices.
- The quality of some assessments is starting to improve. Inspectors identified some examples of good assessments that included better use of case histories to inform a clear analysis and understanding of risk and need.
- For children subject to child protection plans, thresholds are appropriately applied.
- Children are now regularly seen by their social workers, and more recent social work practice is leading to improved outcomes for some through better focused interventions. This is leading to positive changes for these children, including some highly vulnerable disabled children.
- The recently established children vulnerable to exploitation team is having a positive impact on completing return home interviews and identifying risk.
- The oversight and management grip for children escalated into the public law outline (PLO) in respect of pre-proceedings is significantly stronger than at the last inspection, and is now well established.
- Senior managers continue to have a good understanding of the areas of practice that require improvement.
However, senior managers understand that good assessments are not consistent across the service, and there are still too many assessments that lack depth and do not identify children’s lived experiences. The cumulative effect of neglect is not always sufficiently explored and understood.
Most child protection plans are not good enough. Some do not address all the areas of risk or identify interventions that would reduce risk to children. They also focus heavily on the needs of parents and concentrate on tasks rather than identifying what needs to improve for children. They also lack meaningful contingency plans, making it difficult for parents to clearly understand what will happen if change is not achieved.
Although plans are regularly reviewed, there is not enough consideration given to, or challenge of, the difference that the interventions are making in children’s lives. This delays escalation into pre-proceedings when there is no improvement.
Inspectors identified a small number of children for whom known risks were not effectively managed, and for whom planning has been ineffective and unchallenged by conference chairs and frontline managers. As a result, planning is not always improving children’s circumstances, and this was seen particularly in the cases of older adolescents experiencing ongoing long-term neglect.
The report warned that despite agencies’ commitment to planning, their roles in protecting and meeting children’s needs are not always sufficiently considered or maximised. For example, although the local authority has worked with health partners to improve the timeliness in accessing services to support emotional and mental health needs, children still wait too long to receive help.
There is insufficient social work oversight of disabled children. The local authority has identified 66 ‘closed for review’ cases that they believe require support at an early help stage. These children are not reviewed by social workers, which means that their needs may not be fully understood or met at the earliest opportunity.
These assessments are too narrowly focused on children’s health, to the detriment of understanding all of their and their families’ needs.
“Good progress is being made in building a sustainable and suitably skilled workforce. A stable and talented senior leadership team is in place. Managers have recently and successfully recruited a high number of permanent assisted and supported year in employment social workers (ASYEs), advanced practitioners and team managers, and there is a keen focus on ensuring high-quality appointments. Senior managers know what good practice looks like and are using this knowledge to further develop frontline managers,” the report concluded.