Strong and resilient senior leadership has underpinned improvement in practice at Kirklees from a considerably low base since the last inspection of children's services in 2016 where Ofsted rated the authority as inadequate.
The pace of change was slow initially due in part to a lack of stable and effective senior management. However, in June 2017, a formal arrangement was implemented by the Department for Education with Leeds City Council taking responsibility for overseeing improvement.
Since March 2018, there has been steady progress in strengthening the foundations for sustainable service improvement. As a result, there are no widespread or serious failures that leave children at risk of harm.
"Progress has been achieved through increased corporate commitment and investment in services, clear and focused leadership, strengthening of partnerships, for example the duty and advice team, and improved workforce stability and engagement. Children who need help and protection are now recognised, and risk of significant harm is quickly responded to," said the report.
However, the local authority is not delivering good help, protection and care for all children, young people and families. Caseloads for some social workers in the assessment and intervention teams are challenging to manage when they are on duty, and this impacts on quality in some cases. This means that not all children receive help at the earliest opportunity. There are still delays in achieving permanence for some children. This includes children with a plan for long-term fostering and those placed with parents on care orders. Management oversight, challenge and supervision are not sufficiently robust. Mechanisms for monitoring permanence have been strengthened, but these improvements are too recent to have had an impact, the report added.
In terms of the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection, which requires improvement to be good, Ofsted found:
- There has been steady and continuous progress to improve the initial response to children in need of help and protection since the last Ofsted inspection in 2016.
- Kirklees’ early help strategy has recently been refreshed, but is not fully embedded. There are examples of good and impactful work with families, however, the local authority is not evaluating the impact of early help provision, limiting its understanding of what is effective and why.
- When significant harm is identified, the majority of children benefit from swift, well-coordinated strategy meetings.
- For children who have experienced domestic abuse, there is a solid, well-coordinated multi-agency response.
- Children benefit from recently improved practices in planning, with social workers able to drive the work, supported through effective multi-agency arrangements.
- Some groups of vulnerable children receive effective support. The work of the multi-agency risk and vulnerability team is starting to embed, and the response to exploitation is better coordinated.
- Young people aged 16 and 17 presenting as homeless are well supported.
However, most assessments and some child protection enquiries are not good enough. While presenting risks are responded to, wider needs are not always identified. Written plans for children in need and those subject to child protection plans focus appropriately on the presenting issues identified from assessments. However, many lack timescales to help focus families and professionals on goals that need to be achieved and clear contingency arrangements to help parents to understand what would happen if the outcomes were not met.
Senior managers have recognised that the disabled children’s service did not provide sufficiently child-centred social work, and moved the management of this team to children’s services.
Senior managers were unaware that the arrangements to support children who are privately fostered had deteriorated since the last inspection and are poor. Children’s needs and the suitability of the arrangements have not been assessed and appropriate checks are not being undertaken.
Further, not all children who go missing are offered a return home interview.
In terms of the experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers which requires improvement to be good, inspectors stated:
- Senior managers have improved services for children in care and care leavers in Kirklees since the last inspection. However, services are not consistently good for all children and young people.
- Inspectors saw appropriate use of the public law outline (PLO). Improved monitoring of timescales through the PLO tracker is leading to decisive action being taken to safeguard children when changes are not made.
- Staff from a range of services, including the multi-systemic team, family group conferencing and the risk and vulnerabilities team, work effectively to support children to remain in the care of their families, and as part of plans for reunification where appropriate.
- The majority of children benefit from living in a range of placements that meet their individual needs.
- Senior managers are working to increase the number of local placements, through an ambitious fostering recruitment strategy and working closely with external providers.
- When children are placed at some distance from their home, effective notification takes place to ensure that host local authorities are informed.
- Social workers and personal advisers have a good understanding of the children and young people they work with, although this is not always consistently evidenced in case recording.
- Children in care are given good support to become physically and emotionally healthier.
- Care leavers increasingly receive an improving service, key to which is the allocation of skilled personal advisers who have manageable workloads, enabling them to get to know their young people very well.
- The vast majority of care leavers live in suitable accommodation and benefit from good support to maintain their living arrangements.
However, senior managers have been too slow to address poor practice identified at the last inspection in relation to children placed with their parents on care orders for significant periods. Senior managers have reviewed all children in these arrangements and are now monitoring them through the permanence panel.
Although a number of these children have achieved permanence as a result, there are still too many children waiting for permanence to be secured.
Some children experience delays in family finding. There are also delays in ensuring permanence matches for children in long-term foster care and for a small number of children waiting to be adopted.
Regarding the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, which requires improvement to be good, the report says:
- Senior leaders have taken a systematic approach to improve the quality of services since the last Ofsted inspection in 2016, which judged the service to be inadequate.
- Children’s social care has been well supported across the council, both financially and culturally, in order to achieve the improvements needed.
- Leaders are creating the right conditions for social work practice to flourish.
- Leaders have reviewed and restructured services for children in need of help and protection and children in care.
- Leaders and senior managers have an improving understanding of the quality of frontline practice through recent peer reviews, Ofsted monitoring visits and the use of sector specialists to improve their services.
- Auditing has been strengthened since the last inspection. However, there is insufficient focus on children’s experiences, and this leads to inflated judgements about the quality of social work practice across the service.
- Staff stability and confidence in core social work practice have significantly improved since the last inspection.
- A key strength is the quality of direct work and relationships between social workers, personal advisers and their children, underpinned by the local authority’s restorative practice model.
- Morale across the service has significantly improved. Social workers feel safe and supported by trusted senior and frontline managers.
However, the newly revised quality assurance and performance framework is still developing. Currently, it does not enable senior managers to fully understand children’s experiences and the quality of social work practice across the service. Changes in the electronic recording system and inconsistencies in recording practices are impacting on data integrity. As a result, great time and effort are focused on data cleansing and some managers are creating and maintaining additional methods of overseeing performance. Although this is necessary, the process is inefficient.
Monitoring of some key areas of practice that significantly impact on children has been too slow to develop. For example, tracking of permanence for children with plans for long-term fostering.
Although caseloads have reduced, some social workers in the assessment and
intervention teams reported that there is a sharp increase in work allocated to
them when they undertake duty.
"Senior managers have successfully recruited and retained social workers, resulting in a significant reduction in the dependency of agency staff, despite the recruitment challenges regionally and nationally. This had been a significant issue at the last inspection. This improving stability, alongside the decision not to use agency staff, has reduced the number of changes in social worker that children experience," the report concluded.
Ofsted recommends that Kirklees improves the quality of recording, assessments and child protection investigations so that children receive help at the earliest opportunity. The quality of written child in need, child protection and care plans need improving, so that they are timebound, with clear and meaningful contingency plans.
The response to disabled children, children in private fostering arrangements, and children at risk from professionals where allegations have been made needs addressing as does the response to children who go missing from home and care, so that all children are offered return home interviews that are of good quality, in order to better understand why children go missing and to inform care planning and strategic priorities.
Kirklees should strengthen the timely permanence for children with plans for long-term fostering and children placed with parents and ensure that life story work is completed for children in care. Care leavers’ need to better understand their health histories.
The quality of foster carer reviews needs improvement and managers should focus on the oversight across the service through improved performance and quality assurance.
Regular supervision of social workers should be carried out that is reflective, directive and, alongside the work of independent reviewing officers (IROs), challenges poorer practice.
Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council
Inspection of children’s social care services