Children in need of help and protection in Sefton generally benefit from better assessments since the last Ofsted inspection that identify risk and inform the provision of appropriate intervention to keep children safe.
Sefton local authority children’s services were last inspected by Ofsted in April-May 2016, when the local authority was judged as requiring improvement to be good in all areas. Since then, a service restructure in Autumn 2017, including changes at senior management level, has contributed to the implementation of the current action plan to improve services for children and their families, a focused visit of the authority found.
"Recent improvements in partner agency collaboration and ownership of concerns have resulted in better focused help that supports families when they are experiencing difficulties in caring for their children," said the report.
Ofsted said the number of children on care orders placed at home with their parents has been reduced effectively over the past year. Care orders have been discharged as a result of the court’s growing confidence in the quality of support plans and reports.
Inspectors also highlighted:
- Purposeful, direct work is being carried out to ensure that the child’s views and feelings are well understood.
- Thresholds are applied appropriately and are understood by partners, which enables the right support and intervention to be provided for children in need of help or protection.
- When children’s experiences indicate that they may be at the edge of care, seven-day targeted services support some families in crisis, as well as through the provision of parenting courses.
- The majority of children’s child protection and care plans are strongly evaluated and progressed by IROs.
- The risks to increasingly younger children posed by criminal and child sexual exploitation is well understood by the local authority.
However, the report notes that while some assessments fully evaluate a child’s needs with careful analysis of risk, protective factors, the child’s voice and the family history, others lack reflection and detail,and are not regularly updated.
Further, when home situations for children in need or children who are subject to a child protection plan do not improve, the processes to escalate to proceedings are not smooth.
In order to improve social work practice, Sefton should ensure manageable caseloads in the locality teams, improvements in recording of line management oversight and the quality of supervision.
Children’s assessments should be updated when their circumstances change to improve planning for all children.
The processes used to escalate cases to proceedings to minimise drift and delay, including the clarity of pre-proceedings letters needs work.
Audit activity should inform workers’ and managers’ development and promotes consistent and high-quality practice for all children.
There should also be sufficiency of support and proactive services for those children identified as being on the edge of care.
"The local authority’s accurate self-assessment demonstrates that it knows its areas of strength and areas for development. Specifically, they know that high caseloads in several locality teams, and limited management capacity and oversight, impact on the consistency and quality of social work practice," said the report.
"Although plans to address these shortfalls are assisted by the recent approval of funds for additional social work capacity, the challenge remains for the recruitment and retention of sufficient social workers to progress plans for further improvement," the report concluded.
Diane Wills is Consultant Social Worker at WillisPalmer, responsible for quality assuring the forensic risk assessment reports.
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