There has been a significant deterioration in children’s services at the London Borough of Newham since the last Ofsted inspection in 2014, the inspectorate has warned.
Inadequate progress has been made in response to the areas of improvement identified in the previous inspection and in the focused visit of 2018. Significant practice deficits remain in key areas, and leaders are failing in their duties to children in care and care leavers. Leaders have not created an environment for social work to flourish, and there has been a distinct lack of ambition for children.
"Children in need of help and protection in Newham receive services which range in quality from requires improvement to be good to poor. Early help and family support services are not fully developed to be effective, particularly for older children and adolescents," said the report. "Most children in care and care leavers are not supported well enough. Services for care leavers have deteriorated and the needs of too many young people are not met, or even known, because there is a lack of contact from the care leavers service."
Ofsted rated the overall effectiveness of the children's services at Newham as inadequate.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement. Inspectors found:
- When children in Newham are identified as being in need of help and protection, they are appropriately safeguarded.
- Children at risk of immediate harm are quickly identified, and strategy discussions take place on the same day or within 24 hours.
- Child protection enquiries appropriately reduce risk to most children.
- Stronger work was found in the Disabled Children and Young People Service (DCYPS), where most of the assessments seen were of a good quality, were child-focused, and evidenced a proportionate approach taken where there were no safeguarding concerns.
- Direct work with children is improving, and social workers know their children well.
- When children are no longer able to live safely at home, statutory powers are used appropriately to safeguard and protect them.
- The work of the designated officer is a strength.
However, the report warns that the early help offer is not well understood and is too limited in scope. Thresholds for services are inconsistently applied. Many children benefit from good-quality assessments, although the quality is variable, and some assessments are poor. Child protection and child in need plans are not yet consistently good enough. Management oversight and decision-making are variable and not consistently effective in driving up the quality of social work practice.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers was rated as inadequate. The report stated:
- Permanence planning and tracking is ineffective. Children often drift into permanent placements rather than their placements being proactively planned.
- Care leavers in Newham receive a poor service and it is of "significant concern" that a high number of young people open to the leaving care service were found not to be in receipt of services at the time of inspection.
- Decisions for children to come into care are not always based on up-to-date assessments or made in response to escalating risk.
- Life-story work is under-developed and was rarely found for children whose plan is not for adoption.
- Pathway plans are highly variable in quality. Some are too long and repetitive and are not always updated when young people’s circumstances change significantly.
However, it was noted that assessments and plans are generally up to date, with many reflecting changes in children’s circumstances, most children live in appropriate placements which meet their needs, and which are matched to their culture and religion and formal reviews are timely and they appropriately consider a broad range of children’s needs.
Social workers visit children regularly and children are routinely seen alone, including those children placed at a distance. Children in care are helped to improve their health, children’s emotional and mental health needs are understood and met and the virtual school team is effective.
Ofsted rated the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families as inadequate. Inspectors stated:
- Since the last inspection, there has been a lack of child focus by senior leaders, meaning that the standard of social work practice in Newham has deteriorated significantly.
- This failure of leadership has resulted in serious failures in practice, which were identified during the inspection, most notably for children requiring permanence and for a high number of care leavers.
- All areas for improvement identified at the previous inspection in 2014 still require attention.
- Leaders have neglected their duties as corporate parents in Newham.
- There is no embedded learning culture in Newham and inspectors found little evidence that senior managers and leaders actively listen to children and families and use feedback to improve services.
- Performance information remains under-developed.
However, political and corporate support has recently been strengthened alongside substantial investment in children’s services. This scrutiny and challenge is vital to support improvement to children’s services in Newham, the report says. There is a focus on increasing stability in the workforce and supervision of social workers and support staff is mostly regular, and staff report that they feel well supported.
Ofsted recommends that senior leadership urgently progress the improvement plan to address deficits in social work practice. Senior managers need to interact with social workers to enable staff to feel listened to.
The regularity and quality of staff supervision and management oversight and the quality and impact of decision-making needs improving as does the quality and timeliness of social work assessments, so that they consistently inform plans.
The quality and effectiveness of safety planning for children at risk of exploitation and the take-up of return home interviews and the effective use of information to identify and mitigate emerging risks also needs improvement.
The accuracy and reliability of the existing quality assurance and performance management system needs work.
Improvement is also required in permanence planning for children to ensure that permanence is achieved for all children without delay, the quality of life-story work for all children and care leavers’ experience of leaving care services and access to outreach workers who know and understand their needs.