Some progress has been made in the delivery of social work services at Warwickshire since the last Ofsted inspection, the inspectorate has said.
There has been a new approach to working with children in need through a recognised model of working with families which is beginning to have an impact on outcomes and ensuring that families receive good-quality, targeted direct work.
A focus on reducing the numbers of agency staff, along with recruitment of a significant number of social workers, has been successful. However, this has not yet resulted in reducing social workers’ caseloads to the target of 15 per worker and caseloads are too high and remain in the mid-twenties. Agreement to recruit extra numbers of social workers to increase overall capacity has been successful, with a number of new social workers due to start in September.
“Pressure to manage overly high caseloads remains evident,” said the report. “Inappropriately allocating work to managers constrains capacity for effective managerial oversight and increases the risk of drift and delay in meeting children’s needs.”
Ofsted said the local authority has responded positively to many of the recommendations of the last inspection. Senior leaders and managers have improved their understanding of their service. Performance is managed through appropriate use of data and, since the last inspection, managers have ensured that a new information system is more fully integrated, and that staff are able to use it successfully.
- Work with children in need has been enhanced through the development of a new targeted support service.
- Thresholds for work with children in need are appropriate. Children in need plans are detailed, with clear action points that have a focus on the help required to make a difference.
- When progress has been made, decisions to step down to early help or close are made at an appropriate point.
- Child protection plans are comprehensive in identifying risk and the work to be done with families to help them understand the impact that parents’ behaviour has on their children.
- Child protection conferences are held in a timely way, with good attendance by partners in most cases.
- The local authority has an established quality assurance process with regular case auditing and thematic activity.
The local authority has seen a significant rise, up to 20%, in the numbers of children subject to a child protection plan in the last 12 months. Senior managers have undertaken work to understand the reasons for this, and have identified that, in a few instances, a child in need plan would have been the more appropriate response.
However, there is little evidence that independent reviewing officers effectively engage with children, and they do not routinely speak to children prior to child protection conferences. Supervision of staff is regular, but the quality is not consistently good.
In order to improve social work practice, Warwickshire should ensure children are allocated a frontline social worker, that there are sufficient numbers of social workers to undertake all casework and that this work is not allocated to managers. Supervision of cases should be reflective and analytical in order to assist the allocated worker to think about complex issues and different approaches in seeking better outcomes for children.
Work should be undertaken with partners to identify those children who are at risk of missing from education and ensure that those children receive appropriate support and intervention to reduce further periods of absence.
The audit process needs to focus on the quality of practice and how practice can support children’s outcomes to improve.
Finally, work should be carried out with managers and independent reviewing officers to enable them to better understand the management of risk and the thresholds for child protection and children in need interventions. Independent reviewing officers should meet with young people before conferences to ascertain their views and explain the child protection process and the purpose of a child protection plan.