A summary of the Ofsted reports of children's services published in December.
Some improvements in care proceedings at Sunderland
Since the last inspection of Sunderland, there have been some improvements in the management of the public law outline and care proceedings, Ofsted has said.
However, the pace of improvement remains too slow. While clear care and legal pathways are now in place, there are continued weaknesses in management oversight and the quality of social work practice, the third monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate for overall effectiveness for a second time in July 2018.
“As a result, some children receive a good and timely response, but too many children experience delays in legal action being taken when it is needed. No children were seen to be at immediate risk of harm during this visit,” said the report.
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.
Children experience drift and delay in achieving permanence in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole
Not enough children have a timely, well-considered plan for permanence at Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole children’s services, Ofsted has revealed.
The councils previously serving the boroughs of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole have been replaced by one new council known as Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council. A new corporate director of children’s services came into post when the council came into being on 1 April 2019.
The senior leadership team has taken timely and effective measures to understand the experiences of children in care of the new council and senior leaders have found that not enough children have a timely, well-considered plan for permanence or have the security of being long-term matched to their forever home.
“Managers are not rigorous enough in providing direction to ensure that children’s plans are progressed quickly enough. Independent reviewing officers do not challenge the lack of pace in making important decisions for children. Consequently, children experience drift and delay in achieving their permanence plans,” said the report following a focused visit of the authority which looked at its arrangements for planning and achieving permanence for children in care.
Some children in Lancashire wait too long for permanence
Some children in Lancashire still wait too long to achieve permanence with their long-term carers, Ofsted has found.
A new permanence policy has been implemented and Lancashire has introduced new systems and tools to scrutinise the quality of work more closely in permanence planning for children in care which is leading to a more organised approach to permanence so that the need to live in secure and caring homes for the duration of their childhood is being appropriately considered for more children.
However, some children still wait too long to achieve permanence with their long-term carers, which means that this approach is not yet fully embedded across children’s services.
“Following the last inspection in 2018, the local authority recognised the need to drive improvement in relation to permanence planning for children in care. However, the pace of improvement has only accelerated since the beginning of this year,” said the report, which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for achieving permanence.
Improvements for care leavers at Bath and North East Somerset
There has been some improvements for care leavers at Bath and North East Somerset although progress in some areas has been slow, Ofsted has said.
In a focused visit to the authority where inspectors looked at their arrangements for care leavers, Ofsted said that young people receive practical and emotional support from social workers and personal advisers who know them well. The identification and response to risk has improved and young people are now visited in accordance with their needs. They are very clear about their rights and entitlements, and the local offer results in tangible benefits for them.
“Some improvements are recent and not fully embedded in practice. The application of the risk assessment tool is inconsistent and needs assessments are not always completed or updated. The quality of pathway plans has improved, but they are not always completed in a timely way. The review of pathway plans is not always stringent,” said the report.
Ealing children’s services deteriorates, says Ofsted
Services for children and families in Ealing have deteriorated since the last inspection in 2016, and now require improvement to be good, Ofsted has said.
A new electronic recording system, a change to the way in which contacts and referrals were handled and insufficient checks and balances led to work building up at the integrated ‘front door’. As a result, there were delays in assessing children’s needs, except for those children identified as being at immediate or potential risk of harm.
However, once referrals are accepted, the quality of practice improves, and some aspects of the service are working well.
“The quality of services for children in care and care leavers is variable. Some children have waited too long to come into care, but when in care, most live in secure and stable homes. They receive good support for their education, and their health needs are met well. Care leavers receive a high level of support with their education, training and employment, but the quality of their accommodation is inconsistent, and some care leavers do not feel safe where they live,” said the report following an inspection of children’s services.
Redcar improves some areas of child protection practice
Redcar and Cleveland has improved the quality of some areas of social work practice for children in need of help and protection since the last inspection in 2017, Ofsted has said.
The implementation of a widely recognised social work model is supporting practice consistency across the partnership. The quality of assessments is improving, plans use clear and accessible language, and planning is effective. The management of allegations against professionals is now more robust.
“Despite heavy investment to increase capacity, social work caseloads have still increased and the pace of change in improving some areas of practice identified at the last judgement inspection in January 2017 is too slow. These areas include the support for children privately fostered, the quality of written plans, and quality assurance. The local authority does not always assess connected carers appropriately when managers make the decision that children can no longer live at home safely. Senior managers are implementing plans to improve the quality of support for disabled children and to ensure that all children get the right level of support to meet their needs,” the focused visit which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for children in need, children subject to a child protection plan, children living in private fostering arrangements and the management of allegations against professionals found.
Further improvements made at Isles of Scilly
Services for children and families on the Isles of Scilly have improved since the single inspection in 2016, Ofsted has said.
While services were graded as good in 2016, leaders have made further positive changes. Services are now stronger, with particularly noticeable improvements in early help and preventative services. These services are well embedded, reducing the need for statutory support and leading to consistently positive outcomes for children and families.
“Partner agencies and the council place children firmly at the forefront of strategic planning and service delivery. Senior and political leaders form a highly effective, skillful and flexible core team. They use a ‘co-production’ approach, working collaboratively with families and partners to build increasingly effective local services for children. This is critical in the context of a small island community,” said the report.
Thurrock improves from requires improvement to good
Since the last inspection of Thurrock in 2016, when children’s services were judged to require improvement, an experienced senior leadership team has driven a sustained pace of improvement in most areas, said Ofsted.
Services for vulnerable children and their families in Thurrock are now good. Although some developments are recent, strong child-centred practice is evident across all teams and services, the inspection of children’s services found.
“Skilled and committed social workers and other frontline practitioners listen to children and their parents. They take time to understand children’s experiences. Staff act swiftly to prevent harm and provide support early. Current senior leaders have worked diligently to develop and support a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Stability of leadership and strong aspirations to ‘get it right’ for vulnerable children are key factors in their success,” said the report.
Brent prioritises services for care leavers
Care leavers continue to be a council-wide priority in Brent, Ofsted has said.
A comprehensive local offer, together with strong corporate and political support and engagement with partners and the young people themselves, enables senior managers to focus on developing services to improve outcomes for care leavers.
“Senior managers know their services well and are addressing the areas of practice where improvement is required. A decline in performance in the care leavers’ service earlier in the year was identified by managers, and significant improvements have since been made,” said the report following a monitoring visit in which inspectors looked at the local authority’s arrangements for care leavers.
High staff turnover hampers progress at Buckinghamshire
Challenges in recruiting social workers and managers and continued high staff turnover in Buckinghamshire is making it difficult to consistently ensure basic practice standards, Ofsted has said.
Progress is less evident in respect of services for children in care than it is in other parts of children’s services seen during previous monitoring visits, said inspectors following the fourth monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in January 2018.
“There is evidence of limited improvements having been made to services for children in care since the last inspection. Work to improve the availability of local placements for children is beginning to deliver results. Independent reviewing officers (IROs) now maintain greater oversight of children’s plans. However, poor practice remains, which continues to have a negative impact on the timely progression of children’s plans and prevents some children from achieving timely permanence,” said the report.
Significant weaknesses in child protection services at North East Lincs
There continues to be significant weaknesses in the quality of services for children in need and those in need of help and protection at North East Lincolnshire, Ofsted has warned.
Some children are not being appropriately safeguarded or having their needs met in a timely way. Children were found to be at risk during this visit, the focused visit of North East Lincolnshire which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for children in need, children subject to a child protection plan and children subject to pre-proceedings found.
“Two priority actions from the previous focused visit have not been sufficiently addressed. The local authority has failed to take swift and decisive action to improve the quality of assessments and decision-making, and the quality and effectiveness of managerial oversight and supervision,” said the report.
“Many children at risk of harm are not being seen by social workers appropriate to the level of risk and need. Risks to children are not being appropriately assessed, and, therefore, some children remain in unsafe situations for too long. Multi-agency meetings to share information, identify risk and review the progress of children’s plans are irregular. When risks are identified or when they escalate, they are not progressed to pre-proceedings in a timely manner. Social workers’ caseloads are excessively high, which prevents workers from undertaking effective work with children and their families,” it added.
Pace of change too slow at Bradford
There are significant deficits in the quality of practice in assessments, children’s plans, manager oversight and supervision quality at all operational levels at Bradford children’s services, Ofsted has said.
Further issues remain in the resilience and capacity of the workforce and in partners’ contribution to keeping children safe and improving their experience and progress, the report said following the third monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in September 2018.
“The local authority is making progress in improving services for children in need of help and protection in some discrete areas of practice, but the pace of change has been too slow,” said the report.
Decline in quality of practice at Hackney
Since the previous inspection in 2016, there has been a decline in the quality of practice and services for some vulnerable children and their families in Hackney, Ofsted has said.
A focused visit undertaken in February 2019 identified areas for priority action because some children were living in situations of significant harm for too long before action was taken. Since that time, senior leaders have taken steps to improve services for children in need of help and protection. There has been a positive shift in the practice and management culture so that it is increasingly child-focused.
“Early help services are well developed and effective. The majority of children in need make good progress. However, practice for children at risk of harm is not yet consistently good, and a small number of children live in neglectful circumstances for too long. For these children, the pace of change towards child-focused and authoritative practice has been too slow. The quality and impact of practice has deteriorated for some specific vulnerable groups of children, including disabled children, privately fostered children and children missing education. This means that services for these groups of children are not consistently good,” said the report.
Nottinghamshire children’s services rated ‘good’ by Ofsted
Most children who require help and protection services in Nottinghamshire receive effective support, but the local authority has not successfully sustained good services for all children, Ofsted has said.
At the last inspection in 2015, Nottinghamshire was judged to be good across all service areas, except for care leavers. Good practice has been maintained for children in care, and the care leavers service has been transformed, the inspection of children’s services found.
“While a focus on some large-scale service areas has resulted in improvement, other smaller defined areas of practice have not received the same attention. Progress in improving these discrete areas of practice has been limited,” said the report.