Ofsted notes improvement at Sandwell but says pace of change needs to accelerate

Sandwell Children’s Trust is making some progress in improving services for children and young people, Ofsted has said.
When the trust took over the delivery of children’s services on behalf of the local authority in April 2018, services were at a low base. Since then, social work processes and practice guidance have been established, which has led to some areas of practice improving.
However, now these foundations have been established, the pace of change should be further accelerated, said the fifth monitoring visit of the local authority since it was judged inadequate in January 2018 which focused on the progress made in the services for children who are subject to child protection (CP) and child in need (CIN) plans.
"Senior leaders in the trust increasingly understand the quality of frontline social work practice due to their regular focus on performance information and audits. The quality and consistency of audits are improving, because there is a greater emphasis on understanding the impact of social workers’ involvement in children’s lives. The trust continues to make progress against its improvement plan," said the report.
However, it added that the quality of social work practice in assessments and planning remains inconsistent. Some aspects of assessments are improving, for example children are being seen regularly, and their views are explored. A strength-based model is used to analyse risks to children, and this provides a clear rationale for actions. However, assessments are often too focused on incidents rather than being a holistic assessment of need. Most assessments demonstrate a lack of professional curiosity and an over-optimism that parents or carers will change their behaviour. Children’s plans are not good enough. They are overly complicated and written in a way which is difficult for families to understand. Families are therefore not always clear about what needs to change.
The report states:
- Senior leaders and managers are having a greater impact on practice through learning from their quality assurance processes and involvement in services.
- Most assessments of children with CIN or CP plans are completed within timescales and demonstrate some aspects of good quality.
- Family histories and information from partners are used well to understand children’s needs. Analysis is detailed and uses a social work practice framework effectively to understand risks. This was particularly evident when examining pre-birth assessments, which were of a good standard.
- Managers routinely sign off assessments with a rationale to support the recommendation. These assessments provide families with a clear understanding of concerns and of what needs to change in order to make things better. However, some assessments that are of a weaker quality show that children are visited less frequently, resulting in a poorer understanding of children’s experiences. In these assessments, social workers do not demonstrate enough professional curiosity and are over-optimistic in their assessment of parents’ abilities to change.
- The quality of plans and planning is not consistently good. Those that are effective are clearly laid out and include achievable actions and objectives. However, in the majority of cases, written plans are overly complicated, repetitive and use professional language that families could find difficult to understand. Many actions are non-specific and do not address the potential risks to children. Plans lack timescales and do not include named people to hold accountable.
- In nearly all cases, meetings and reviews are held on time and are well attended by partners. Minutes of meetings demonstrate that partners are effectively engaged in managing the risks to children.
- Social workers know their children well and recognise the importance of developing positive relationships. They are able to describe in detail their work with children and families.
- Children’s experiences are explicitly highlighted in case recording, and there is evidence of various tools being used for completing direct work. However, case records do not always reflect the work completed, and, some make it difficult to understand how children and families are involved in decision-making.
"Social workers are positive about working for Sandwell Children’s Trust. Senior managers are accessible and visible across the service. Social workers say that they receive regular supervision and good support from team managers. However, supervision records focus on task completion. They are not reflective of discussions relating to practice, and social workers are not prompted to think about how they could do things differently. Team managers do not always challenge plans where there is drift and delay. Caseloads for some social workers remain well above the trust’s target of 18 cases, and this prevents them from completing specific pieces of work with children and families," the report said.
Senior managers understand the need to maintain a focus on social work practice, and they are taking action to address service deficits. Sandwell Children’s Trust is making improvements across its services. However, the pace of change to improve basic social work practice in assessments and plans needs to be accelerated. Further improvements are still required to ensure that practice is consistently good and that the best outcomes for all children are achieved, the report concluded.
Monitoring visit of Sandwell Children’s Services

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