Concerted and dynamic leadership continues to drive rapid progress in the quality of services for children in Croydon, according to Ofsted.
Improvements were evident in almost all areas of practice reviewed during this monitoring visit which was the seventh monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in September 2017. Progress over the last eight months has been sustained and is continuing to gain further momentum.
"The leadership provided by the executive director and the director of early help and children’s social care continues to drive progress at a sustained and rapid pace. This is reaping considerable rewards, and services for children are consistently improving," said the report, which concentrated on services for children who receive support through a child protection plan or a child in need plan and services offered to children who have a plan for adoption.
Almost all children receive at least a reasonable level of service, and some practice is strong. Work with, and for, children is increasingly positive and purposeful, and staff are becoming more confident in their practice. Senior leaders and managers undertake regular and extensive audit activity to understand the experiences of children, and they have a clear and direct line of sight on practice.
- Progress is evident in all areas of practice in this service. Many children benefit from thoughtful and persistent child-centred work that is making a difference to their lives.
- Direct work and positive engagement with children and families are evident in most cases, although this is not always fully reflected in the written records.
- Children on either a child protection or a child in need plan are now visited more regularly, and social workers are more confident in the work that they are undertaking.
- Concerted oversight by senior leaders and managers has seen a reduction in the number of children on a child protection plan or child in need plan, as well as in the amount of pre-proceedings work being undertaken under the public law outline.
- Casework shows that some improvements have been made in adoption practice. Active family finding is taking place, and potential matches are being pursued.
- Significant progress has been made in supervision practice. Supervision now takes place regularly and is clearly recorded.
- Senior managers have a comprehensive understanding of service developments, and they regularly and accurately update written self-assessments.
- Performance management systems have been considerably strengthened, and they provide leaders with reliable data on performance.
However, while most measures, including the frequency of visits and the review of plans, show significant improvement, variability and inconsistency remain. Progress for some children has been negatively affected by staff turnover and a legacy of drift.
As a result, a small number of children have spent an extended period of time on child protection plans without purposeful work being undertaken, resulting in little or limited impact.
The process of cases being transferred from the assessment service to the social work with families service is not working smoothly for all children. Parallel planning does take place, but the permanency planning meetings are not yet providing an effective forum for assisting social workers to think through the options and actions for robust permanency planning at the earliest stage.
Managers have carried out a recent audit of cases for children who have a plan for adoption, and ensure an active oversight of adoption practice through file checks by the head of service. However, work is not consistently timely for all children. Permanency planning meetings are not yet driving planning with the necessary urgency or focusing sufficiently on assisting social workers with creative solutions to family finding.
Staff recruitment continues to be a challenge in Croydon, despite the persistent, widespread and creative efforts of the leadership team. The staff vacancy rate is over 40%, and some services, including the social work with families service, have vacancies. However, there are positive signs of progress and a stable, permanent,management team has been established. Agency staff are well supported and caseloads remain manageable.
"Staff report being very happy working for Croydon. They are well supported and now have manageable caseloads. Staff commented very positively on the progress under the current leadership, describing a culture of open communication and a dedication to positive change. Staff valued the accessibility, availability and feedback from senior leaders and managers alike. The current average caseload in the social work with families service is just over 14, which is below the local authority’s target of 16 for the service," the report said.
"Senior managers are making consistent improvements, which are continuing to gain momentum. Senior and middle management teams are well placed to embed the changes and to ensure greater consistency in practice. The overall improvements to compliance, together with signs of strong practice, mean that they can now focus on improving the consistency of the quality of practice for all children," the report concluded.
Monitoring visit to Croydon local authority children’s services