The quality and range of performance management information available and used by senior leaders at North Somerset needs to improve, Ofsted has said.
The range of performance information available to senior leaders is not comprehensive enough, and they do not have sufficient oversight of the quality of frontline practice and the timeliness of interventions to safeguard children in this part of the service, a focused visit of the authority found.
"North Somerset children’s services were last inspected by Ofsted in 2017, when the overall effectiveness of services was judged to require improvement to be good. Since then, senior leaders have focused on improving services for vulnerable children. However, not all areas identified for improvement have been fully addressed," said the report.
Ofsted urges North Somerset to improve the quality and range of performance management information available and used by senior leaders to understand and monitor children’s experiences and the quality of practice.
Inspectors looked at the local authority’s arrangements at the first point of contact for children who need help and protection in accordance with the Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services framework (ILACS).
Good partnership working in the ‘one front door’ service, which responds to domestic abuse notifications, results in effective decisions that safeguard children. Thresholds are applied appropriately by partners. Once children are seen, the interventions of referral and assessment and locality teams to meet their needs are proportionate.
However, too many children do not have an allocated social worker, including children subject to child protection planning and in care. At the time of the visit, there were more than 60 children managed on a duty basis, including a small number whose cases had remained unallocated for five months.
- Thresholds are understood and applied by partner agencies and lead to timely referrals to children’s social care.
- Where there are concerns for the safety of children, strategy discussions are timely.
- The out-of-hours service is effective.
- The majority of assessments are up to date and of good quality and include clear analysis of risk and needs.
- Initial child protection conferences are mostly timely and well attended by agency partners.
- Social workers in the locality teams know their children well and are committed to improving their lives.
The report said that when risks to children at the point of contact with children’s services are clear, timely decisions are made. When children’s needs are less obvious, too often there are delays in decision-making while further information is gathered, leaving children for too long in circumstances of unassessed risk or without the help and support that they need to improve their circumstances.
Action planning arising from strategy discussions is not consistently rigorous or timebound, leading to delays in completing child protection enquiries.
While supervision takes place on a regular basis and increasingly provides opportunities for reflection and risk-based analysis of children’s’ circumstances, when actions for workers to complete are identified, they are not consistently timebound or revisited.
While regular auditing of practice is taking place, the current programme does not always assist leaders in identifying and prioritising areas for improvement.
"Senior leaders have worked hard to create a working environment that supports good practice. Social workers have manageable caseloads and are supported to develop their knowledge and skills through a comprehensive learning and development offer. Both these strategic initiatives contribute to high morale across the service, as well as improving the quality of social work practice and interventions. A consequence of managing social work caseloads is that too many children remain unallocated for too long. This is an issue that senior leaders have failed to address," the report concluded.
Ofsted urges North Somerset to take swift action to ensure all children requiring an assessment or service, in particular children subject to child protection planning or in care, are allocated to a social worker without delay. The timeliness, effectiveness and management oversight of decision-making when children first come to the attention of the local authority needs improving urgently.
North Somerset also needs to improve the timeliness of visits to children subject to child protection enquiries, commensurate with their circumstances, the timeliness of assessments and the quality of planning and the quality and range of performance management information available and used by senior leaders to understand and monitor children’s experiences and the quality of practice.