Ofsted inspectors saw some effective work in supporting children on the edge of care at Sheffields Children Services underpinned by increased staffing and strengthened formal decision-making processes.
Sheffield has been working to improve its children’s services since an internal review in the latter part of 2017 identified inconsistent service-wide social work practice and management oversight that was resulting in ineffective support to improve children’s lives.
An improvement plan was implemented with an initial focus on the ‘front door’. These issues were shared with Ofsted in February 2018 at the first annual engagement meeting held under the ILACS framework. A focused visit in April 2018 identified that responses to immediate safeguarding issues and to requests for support to families were timely and thorough.
This second focused visit, to further assist the local authority in its improvement work, continued to see senior managers appropriately focusing on improving services.
"A recognised model of social work practice has been implemented and a new electronic recording system has been introduced, although it is too early to see the full impact of these developments," said the report.
The statutory director of children’s services (DCS) and the lead member appointed the director of children and families as part of the improvement programme. Collectively, they commissioned a wholesale review of the support for vulnerable children in Sheffield, including an audit of all open cases. This led to a comprehensive improvement plan, overseen by an improvement board, led by the DCS and supported by significant additional corporate investment.
Overall, inspectors saw variable practice across the social work teams. Effective work ensures that children are being protected. However, social work practice and management oversight is not yet consistent, and this has led to some children not having their needs met in a timely way.
The report highlighted:
- There are clear processes in place to make decisions about whether a child needs to be in care.
- The social workers who met inspectors were enthusiastic, committed and knew the families well.
- A new edge of care service has been established. This builds on the existing family group conference service, the reunification team and the multi-systemic therapy (MST) team. Inspectors saw skilled work that resulted in children being able to return to their families based on sound risk assessment and the development of multi-agency support plans.
- Audits undertaken in relation to children on the edge of care appropriately identify the variable quality of casework.
However, assessments are not always up to date. Significant history and events are not always evaluated and assessed to enable robust planning. Legal gateway meetings, and subsequent letters to parents, are clear about the general concerns, but do not always sufficiently prioritise the issues that need to be addressed.
All of the children who had come into care recently needed to be in care. However, a small number of those children could have come into care sooner if there had been a better focus on their day-to-day experience in their assessments and plans rather than a response to a presenting issue.
Social work management oversight is variable and does not always identify key tasks to be undertaken and ensure that these are completed.
In order to improve social work practice, Sheffield needs to improve the consistency in the quality of assessments, including them being updated regularly, being focused on the lived experience of the child, and taking into account the accumulative impact of poor parenting.
The provision of support to children and families needs to be commensurate with their needs.
The quality of legal planning minutes and pre-proceedings letters needs work, which should identify concerns clearly, and detail what has been done to assist parents and children, how further support will be offered and by when.
The quality of supervision and management direction in steering case progression needs improving, challenging delay and promoting high-quality social work. The quality of auditsneeds focus so that they focus on outcomes for children, and how they are used to evaluate social work practice and promote learning.