The quality and the timeliness of services remain less than good for too many children in Cambridgeshire, Ofsted has said.
Since the last inspection, changes of senior leadership, restructuring of services, rising demand and challenges in recruiting enough social workers have had a negative impact on how well and how quickly children and their families receive help and support.
"Leaders have recognised this and have taken a series of well considered actions, backed by financial investment, which have begun to improve the quality and impact of work with children, young people and their families," said the inspection of children's social care services.
Ofsted rated Cambridgeshire children's services as 'requires improvement'.
The most significant challenge to the local authority’s ability to provide consistently good services to children, young people and their families has been, and continues to be, the size of caseloads. These are too high for most social workers and unsustainable in some teams. The impact of this is that, too often, social workers and front-line managers have had to focus on the most urgent and important work to secure children’s immediate safety, without sufficient capacity for the follow-up work needed to sustain change within families or to ensure that children in care have permanent homes as soon as possible.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement to be good. Inspectors highlighted:
- A significant minority of children do not get the help and support they need quickly enough.
- Too many assessments take longer than they should and do not fully explore underlying problems or the wishes and feelings of children.
- Staff are working hard to make a positive difference for children but are held back by the impact of high caseloads.
- There is more to do to increase the numbers of early help assessments being carried out and to encourage agencies other than children’s social care to take up the role of lead professional.
However, a recently established early help hub (EHH) is proving to be a well-managed, effective service. New arrangements for assessing referrals about children and young people within the MASH were launched in November 2018. Even at this relatively early stage of their development, they are working well.
Ofsted also praised the work of the MET hub in carrying out return home interviews when children have been missing from home or care as impressive.
Daily multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARACs) are well run and well attended and, consequently, are an effective mechanism for strengthening the coordination of work to reduce the impact of domestic abuse on children.
Assessments are detailed and, in most cases, clearly outline key risk and protective factors.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers requires improvement to be good. The report states:
- There remains more to do before the local authority can deliver consistently good services for children. While not as high as in the assessment and children’s teams, social work caseloads and the pressure of work has slowed progress by the children in care teams.
- Work to ensure that children have permanent homes is not always pursued with sufficient pace or rigour.
- Too often, the health needs of children are not being well met.
- Work to prepare children in care and care leavers for independence is not strong.
- A review of the work of the virtual school has been completed and its recommendations are beginning to be implemented. However, it is too early to see the impact of this work.
However Ofsted stated that although there are several areas where the consistency and quality of work need to improve, inspectors also found that most children live in placements that meet their needs, that most are making progress and that placement stability is good.
A strong training package for foster carers is complemented by good support from their supervising social workers and carers receive regular supervision.
When it is recognised that a child could benefit from adoption, this is progressed swiftly for most children. The quality of services that care leavers receive is improving, with a significant uplift in the number of personal advisers within a new team structure. The local authority’s sign-up to the national transfer scheme for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children reflects its commitment to these children.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is good. Ofsted noted:
- Leaders and managers have taken a series of well-considered actions to address weaknesses in the quality and impact of services for children.
- Whole-council ownership of the change programme and strong political backing have secured significant additional investment.
- The local authority’s management of the change programme has been intelligent and effective.
- Targeted investment is supporting some important improvements in the quality of services.
- Leaders and managers know well the key strengths and weaknesses of services in Cambridgeshire.
- The local authority is committed to engaging with children and young people and using their views in the development of its services.
Ofsted recommends that to improve Cambridgeshire needs to address the capacity of social work teams to complete work to a consistently good standard and to ensure that children and families receive the help they need as quickly as possible.
The consistency and quality of direct work undertaken with children, and how well this is used to inform help and support for them and their families needs improvement as does the frequency, quality and impact of management supervision of social work practice.
Finally, Cambridgeshire should work on the effectiveness of arrangements to promote health and education and to secure permanence for children in care and prioritise the relatively high numbers of children missing education.