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Ofsted highlights ‘unacceptable’ screening visits at Oldham

“Unacceptable” screening visits are being carried out at Oldham children’s services, Ofsted has found.

The focused inspection of the authority which concentrated on the local authority’s arrangements for the front door identified that social workers are undertaking ‘screening visits’ to some children and their families prior to a referral decision, although the rationale for these visits is unclear.

“The local authority explained that these visits are an assessment. However, they are undertaken outside of the single assessment process and this means that families are being assessed without their knowledge or right to read, comment and have their views recorded, and this is unacceptable,” said the report.

In some cases, these visits led to a delay in children having their needs formally assessed and also meant that children and their families had to explain their circumstances to more than one worker in quick succession. Following discussions during this visit, the local authority intends to review the use of screening visits, said Ofsted.

It added that while assessments are timely, further work is required to ensure that the quality of assessments is consistently good.

Ofsted inspectors identified:

  • Children and families who need some additional support have access to a wide range of well-developed early help services.
  • The majority of decisions to step up children’s cases from early help to social care and to step down work from social care are appropriate.
  • The majority of information sharing from partners is prompt and of good quality.
  • Managers provide detailed oversight on all contact and referral decisions in the MASH.
  • Threshold decisions made by social workers in the MASH are applied appropriately for most children, including decisions to look after children in emergency circumstances.
  • Children at risk of significant harm are promptly responded to.
  • Child protection investigations are timely and thorough, and they evidence clear information sharing and focus on risk.
  • Management direction for allocation of assessments is a particular strength.

However, while some assessments are of good quality, the majority do not include effective consideration of children’s histories to inform analysis of risk, or sufficient analysis of the capacity of parents to do things differently in the future. A small number of children are re-referred to children’s social care for the same or similar issues when weaker assessments did not fully evaluate the risks to, and needs of, children or when cases were closed prematurely.

The response to vulnerable children, including those experiencing domestic abuse or self-harm, and those children who are at risk of sexual exploitation, is variable.

Ofsted recommends that Oldham improves the quality, consistency and child-centeredness of assessments and the efficacy and ethics of first contacts with families.

Oldham also needs to give consideration and understanding of coercive control in cases of domestic abuse and should improve the quality of social work responses to vulnerable adolescents, including those at risk of child sexual exploitation and self-harm.

Focused visit of Oldham

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