Children’s services in Surrey have been rated as inadequate by Ofsted.
While adoption performance was rated as good, children in need of being looked after and the experience of care leavers were rated as requiring improvement. However, children in need of protection and leadership, management and governance were rated as inadequate in Ofsted’s re-inspection of Surrey County Council.
Ofsted criticises senior leaders and elected members in Surrey as being “far too slow to accept and act on the findings and recommendations of the 2014 inspection” and to respond with the required urgency of findings that subsequent monitoring visits have highlighted.
“Too many of the most vulnerable children in the county are being left exposed to continuing harm for long periods of time before decisive protective actions are taken,” said the report.
Children and their families experience repeated assessments and interventions in different parts of the service, often over periods of many years, and these do not achieve sustainable changes, it added.
- Frontline managers and social workers do not routinely analyse family histories and the negligible impact of earlier phases of help. This results in children experiencing continued neglectful parenting, often including exposure to domestic abuse.
- The quality of assessment, planning and reviewing for children who are on statutory child in need or child protection plans is too weak.
- The understanding and application of thresholds by external agencies is poor, resulting in too many unnecessary low-level contacts and referrals, and overloading social workers in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH).
- Managers at all levels, including child protection chairs, do not carefully and rigorously evaluate the progression of children’s plans.
- Many of these children experience considerable delay in the pre-care, public law outline (PLO) phase of proceedings.
- Many children experience lasting harm and arrive in care too late. Some children experience delays in early placement planning, and a large majority do not undergo timely initial health assessments.
- Early permanence planning for children who could be looked after for longer periods is too inconsistent, meaning that a small number arrive in permanent long-term homes later than they should.
- Older children looked after aged 16 years and over do not have sufficient support from personal advisers, working alongside their social workers, to construct clear pathway plans.
- Personal advisers working with young people who have left care are overstretched, meaning they cannot meet all the commitments they make.
However, the large majority of children, once they are in care, live in stable, well-supported foster placements and are regularly visited by their social workers, who do some thoughtful and valuable direct work with them. The adoption service is tenacious and effective at finding permanent parents for children with highly complex needs and supports adopters well if future difficulties arise.
The turnover of staff remains a significant difficulty, compounded by the additional recruitment and retention pressures also faced by a number of other local authorities in south-east England in close proximity to London. The local authority is purposefully addressing this with continuous centralised recruitment initiatives.
“Very recently, leaders, managers and elected members have grasped the scale of improvement needed through an honest acceptance of the depth of practice shortcomings and a concerted focus on improving children’s experiences and outcomes,” said the report. “This positive cultural change is starting to build a better understanding of risk, a learning-based practice model and more confidence, informed social work with children.”
“However, these improvements are yet to be embedded, and have not yet led to sustained, widespread reform on the scale required for consistently effective and safe frontline services,” the report concluded.