The progress at Torbay children’s services remains too slow, Ofsted has warned.
In its fifth monitoring visit since it was rated inadequate in January 2016, Ofsted inspectors said that the quality of service that some children looked after receive has declined since the local authority was inspected in October 2015.
“Children who are subject to the public law outline (PLO) in Torbay experience delays in arrangements to secure permanent settled homes for them,” said the report. “Risk to children, while generally identified, is not consistently addressed by social workers and their managers.”
“Although senior managers were aware of all of the deficits seen by inspectors on this visit, actions taken to address deficits have not yet been effective in achieving the required improvements to practice,” the report added.
The inspection which focused on services for looked-after children found that the quality of services for some children had deteriorated since the last inspection. Despite commitment to address this, positive changes are not yet having an impact.
The lack of challenge to poor practice is entrenched in the culture, progress in implementing a framework to improve practice has been too slow, social workers and team managers demonstrate insufficient professional curiosity and poor quality frontline management oversight, poor decision-making to protect children and ineffective quality assurance of casework by IROs are widespread.
Recent changes include: reduced caseloads for staff, improved training for social workers and managers, increasing use of quality assurance of casework and performance management information to inform practice improvement. Workforce stability and social work and IRO capacity have recently significantly improved due to additional funding for children’s services secured by the current director of children’s services.
While these are positive developments, some children remain in situations of known risk of significant harm for too long without effective action being taken to protect them and monitor their welfare.
Over-optimistic social work practice and unrealistic expectations of parents’ capacity to change, particularly in relation to cases in which domestic abuse or mental health are features, continue to be significant weaknesses.
The report highlighted:
- Decision-making by social workers is not always timely or responsive to the identified risk to the child.
- Arrangements to support children on the edge of care are not effective or purposeful.
- The timeliness of visits to see children looked after has declined and is now at 73%, having been at 79% in December 2016.
- The quality of social work case recording continues to be poor.
- Assessments of children already looked after are not sufficiently comprehensive or analytical.
- The quality of plans for children looked after is poor.
- While scrutiny of case work by IROs is regular, it is of poor quality.
- Attention to the basic health needs of looked after children is poor.
However, inspectors highlighted that placement stability is improving and 5% of children looked after had three or more placement moves in the last 12 months. The local authority appointed a dedicated special guardianship coordinator in November 2017 to ensure that children subject to these arrangements are well monitored and supported.
“A culture of resistance to challenge within many areas of the workforce remains. This ultimately acts as a barrier to achieving permanent improvement for children across children’s services in Torbay. Actions introduced by senior managers to challenge this poor performance have not been effective in the two years since the full inspection,” the report concluded.