A summary of the Ofsted reports of children's services, published in February.
Increased caseloads hinder progress at Durham
The pace of change at Durham children’s services has been hindered since the last inspection in 2016.
High staff turnover and increased demand for services have resulted in increased caseloads which, coupled with an outdated electronic system, has hindered the pace of change required since the local authority was judged as requires improvement to be good overall in 2016.
“There has been appropriate financial commitment from the council and a service restructure to support the improvements needed. Appropriately focused improvement plans are firmly in place to address the shortfalls and they are starting to have an impact,” said the report.
“Improving practice has been seen since August in relation to the identification of risk, timeliness of assessments, stability in the workforce, and performance management,” it added.
South Gloucestershire makes progress in child protection
South Gloucestershire Council continues to make progress in improving services for children in need of help and protection and for those receiving support from the disability services, Ofsted has said.
Senior managers have addressed the weaknesses in the access and referral teams identified at the first monitoring visit of 19 and 20 September 2017, the sixth monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in February 2017 found.
“Inspectors noted continual improvement in the quality of services for children in the 0–25 disability services. Despite challenges, the quality of service that children in need of help and protection receive from the access and response teams has also improved,” said the report.
Significant concerns at Torbay have not been addressed
Senior leaders have failed to address the significant concerns identified during the re-inspection of Torbay children’s services in June 2018, Ofsted has said.
Capacity issues in the safeguarding assessment teams (SATS) and safeguarding and family support service (SAFS) are considerable, with too few social workers to carry out the work needed, the first monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate, for the second time, for overall effectiveness in June 2018 found.
“This results in delays in seeing children and an inability to undertake good-quality assessments, make effective plans and take necessary and timely action. Inspectors and senior leaders remain concerned that risks to children are not being managed consistently,” said the report.
Staff morale high in Nottinghamshire MASH
Staff morale is high in the MASH and assessment teams at Nottinghamshire and staff have manageable caseloads, Ofsted has reported.
However, planning processes for undertaking child protection enquiries are not always robust. Strategy discussions are not always timely, and this delays formal decisions on child protection investigations.
“The rationale for decisions is not sufficiently explained in children’s records, and this includes giving reasons for why a strategy discussion has not been undertaken. Key partners, such as health agencies and schools, are not always included in strategy discussions. This means that not all information on potential risks to children is shared at these meetings and therefore not all partners will know about the child protection concerns,” said the report.
“This reduces the effectiveness of information-sharing and reduces partners’ responsibilities in the child protection process,” it added.
Rochdale improves front door social work practice
Social work practice at the ‘front door’ in Rochdale has improved since the last inspection in 2018, Ofsted has said.
Consideration of children’s needs is at the centre of all work seen during the focused visit to Rochdale children’s services.
“When concerns arise for children in Rochdale, they receive a prompt and effective response, and children who are, or who are likely to be, at risk of harm are protected,” said the report.
Too many children experience delays in Gloucestershire
Too many children referred to Gloucestershire children’s services experience delays in being seen by social workers, Ofsted has said.
Although the local authority has made improvements in the timeliness of responses to children in need of help or protection, the quality and consistency of practice is not yet good enough, the monitoring visit of Gloucestershire children’s services found.
“Young people often experience delay in the identification of, and response to, unchanging or escalating risk, and in the progression of planning within timescales that provide them with the best opportunity to thrive,” said the report.
Ofsted praises Merton MASH
Social workers at the London Borough of Merton are supported and supervised effectively by experienced managers, Ofsted has reported.
A focused visit which considered the local authority’s arrangements for children who need help and protection, in accordance with the Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services framework, found that work within the MASH remains a strong area of practice, as it was when the local authority was last inspected in 2017.
“It is well established, with effective multi-agency engagement, and partners’ contributions lead to timely and proportionate responses to the risks identified at the time of referral,” said the report.
“Assessments are comprehensive and analytical, and lead to clear plans that help to improve children’s and families’ circumstances.”
Ofsted finds limited progress at Sunderland
Progress in improving services at Sunderland has been limited, Ofsted has said.
Due to a technical fault, the electronic case recording system was unavailable on the second day of the first monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate for overall effectiveness for a second time in July 2018. This resulted in the inspectors being unable to scrutinise allthe areas that had been agreed.
“On the areas inspectors were able to look at, progress in improving services has been limited. Better decision-making systems have been developed and workforce stability is improved, but this has yet to sufficiently impact on the inconsistency in the quality of social work practice,” said the report.
Kent improves front door service
Kent Council children’s services has improved the efficiency and effectiveness of the front door service, according to Ofsted.
Ofsted last inspected Kent county council children’s services in 2017, giving an overall judgement of good, with the response to children who need help and protection graded as requiring improvement to be good.
A focused inspection which reviewed the local authority’s arrangements for managing contacts and referrals at the ‘front door’ and decision-making in relation to children who need help and protection found Kent has appropriately acted on feedback from the last inspection, with a firm focus on the front door arrangements.
“Since October 2018, there has been a single integrated route for accessing early help, intensive and higher level statutory social work services. Early signs are that the new arrangements have been implemented well,” said the report.
Stability of workforce at Herefordshire improves
Senior leaders at Herefordshire Council have improved the overall stability of the social care workforce, from a very low base, Ofsted has said.
The focused visit looked at the local authority’s arrangements for receiving referrals about children who may be in need or at risk of significant harm, children transferring to and from early help services, the effectiveness of child protection enquiries and the quality of assessments and interventions for children in need of help and protection.
Senior managers have increased much needed management capacity and reduced overall social work caseloads across the service. This has been achieved very recently and over a relatively short period of time.
“Plans for improvement are appropriately focused on core areas that make the most difference to the lives of children. Senior leaders and managers have a realistic view of the quality of practice, which remains too variable and is not yet good,” said the report.
Surrey has introduced new practice model
Surrey children’s services are introducing a new practice model and service structure, Ofsted has said.
Leaders have planned for these fundamental system changes to be in place by April 2019, the monitoring visit to Surrey local authority children’s services found.
“Overall the effectiveness and timeliness of permanence planning for children who are unable to live with their parents has improved since the inspection, and a range of options, including adoption, placements with extended family members and special guardianship orders, are considered at the same time,” said the report following the monitoring visit which evaluated the experiences of children in care.
New model of practice in Leicester
Leicester children’s services is successfully implementing a new approach to working with children and families based on a recognised model of practice, Ofsted has said.
Leicester children’s services were last inspected by Ofsted in July 2017, when the overall effectiveness of the service was judged to require improvement to be good. Since then, a strong, permanent and well-focused senior leadership team has built on the progress seen at that inspection.
The new model “is helping to improve the quality of social work practice and beginning to have a positive impact on outcomes for children and families. This, as well as a much more stable workforce with manageable caseloads in both the children in need and disabled children’s service, is enabling social workers to spend more time with children, build better relationships with them, and devise plans in consultation with them to improve their lives,” said the report.
Children in care in Southwark receive effective support
Children in care in Southwark receive effective support that helps many of them to achieve good outcomes, Ofsted has said.
Since the last inspection in 2017, senior managers have made evident progress in addressing the areas for improvement identified at that time, underpinned by a culture of continuous learning, the focused visit to Southwark found.
“They have a good understanding of the areas where improvements are still required, and they continue to show drive and determination in sustaining and improving outcomes for children in care,” said the report.
Sandwell makes progress in front door services
Sandwell Children’s Trust is continuing to make progress in improving its ‘front door’ response to children and families, Ofsted has said.
In the third monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in January 2018, Ofsted said Sandwell has a robust performance framework which can provide it with accurate information about the quality of practice and the improvements to practice and outcomes for children still required.
“Progress has been made in ensuring that the first response to families and children in need is timely and, in most cases, recognises risk and the scale of intervention required. However, practice is still not consistent,” said the report.
Quality of services “too variable” in Somerset
The quality of service that children receive in Somerset is too variable across the county, Ofsted has warned.
In the last inspection in November 2017, Somerset was judged to be requires improvement to be good. Since then, the number of permanent team managers and social workers has increased, and caseloads have been reduced to manageable levels.
“There are still areas of practice that need to be of a better standard, but the senior leadership team has an accurate understanding of the quality of practice in this area of the service,” said the report.
Ofsted: Cambridgeshire ‘requires improvement’
The quality and the timeliness of services remain less than good for too many children in Cambridgeshire, Ofsted has said.
Since the last inspection, changes of senior leadership, restructuring of services, rising demand and challenges in recruiting enough social workers have had a negative impact on how well and how quickly children and their families receive help and support.
“Leaders have recognised this and have taken a series of well considered actions, backed by financial investment, which have begun to improve the quality and impact of work with children, young people and their families,” said the inspection of children’s social care services.