“Serious and widespread failures” have been identified at Wakefield children’s services by Ofsted.
Judging Wakefield as ‘inadequate’, Ofsted said inspectors found cases of children throughout the services for whom risk had not been identified and where appropriate action had not been taken to help and protect them.
There are serious delays in achieving permanence for children in care and in ensuring that their needs are met.
“Since the last Ofsted inspection in 2016, senior leaders across the council and partnership have not effected the improvements necessary to remove serious weaknesses or counter a decline in service quality. In 2016, services were judged to require improvement to be good. Many of the identified improvements have not been delivered and previously good services have deteriorated,” said the report.
The report pointed out that a director of children’s services has recently been appointed and she has started to recruit a new management team. The council has committed to additional resourcing and an improvement plan, developed with partner agencies and other regional local authorities, is being implemented.
However, the plan is not based on a systematic evaluation of the current service weaknesses, or on a full understanding of the experiences of children, Ofsted warned.
The report highlighted:
- Managers did not know the full extent of the problems at the front door until the focused visit, and the problems across the rest of the service until this inspection.
- Capacity issues are considerable, with too few social workers to carry out the work needed.
- This results in delays in seeing children, undertaking assessments, making plans and taking necessary action.
- Social worker turnover and sickness absence are high, prompting increasing numbers of short-term staff.
- Too many cases are being referred to children’s social care of children who are not in need of statutory intervention.
- Social workers are not supported sufficiently or challenged by managers, and their oversight of cases is not making a difference to children.
- A situation has developed where the absence of case recording has become a pattern in many teams, and some managers do not consistently challenge this.
- There is little accurate performance data, and quality assurance has not identified and responded to the weaknesses throughout the service.
In relation to child protection services, Ofsted said services for children in need of help and protection in Wakefield are inadequate because there are widespread and serious failures that leave children at risk of harm or living in harmful situations for too long. Thresholds are not well understood and a significant weakness across Wakefield’s social work practice is the failure to recognise and respond to risk. Deficits in the quality of basic social work practice across the service, including for disabled children, are significant and recording across children’s services is poor.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers is inadequate and have deteriorated since the last Ofsted inspection in July 2016. Decisions to take children into care are too slow, resulting in some children living in risky situations for too long. In the main, social workers’ assessments of children in care and care leavers are poor. Social workers do not always provide reports for reviews for children in care which hinders effective multi-agency planning. Too many children experience placement instability.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is inadequate. Senior leaders across the council and partnership have not tackled the serious and widespread failures across children’s services, and this has left children at risk of significant harm. The inspection of Wakefield Children’s Services in July 2016 identified a number of areas for improvement, the majority of which have not been delivered. Furthermore, services previously judged as good have deteriorated. There are too few social workers to provide a safe service to meet the needs of children and families. Newly qualified staff are carrying cases well beyond their capability levels without support. There are significant capacity issues across children’s services and supervision is irregular.
However, inspectors did see some impressive social work support. Some children and families are receiving a high-quality service which is safeguarding and improving their lives. Children are supported effectively to take part in their reviews and have advocates to represent them. Managers of the virtual school know what is working well and what needs to improve, and they are taking steps to affect necessary changes.
The report makes a number of recommendations as to what needs to improve including:
- Managers’ oversight of the quality and impact of practice in all children’s cases, including effective supervision of all staff.
- The quality of social work practice, including seeing children, the quality of assessments, recording and plans for children in need of help and protection, children in care and care leavers.
- Recruitment and retention of experienced social workers, managers and senior managers.
- Escalation to pre-proceedings where children’s circumstances do not improve quickly enough.
- Placement stability and the timeliness in achieving permanence for all children, including those placed with connected persons, parents and foster carers.