A summary of the Ofsted reports of children's services inspections published during May.
Social workers supported well at Richmond
Social workers are supported and supervised regularly at Richmond upon Thames children’s services, Ofsted said.
In a focused visit of the authority which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for children who need help and protection, inspectors found referral routes into the single point of access (SPA) and the MASH are well established and effective, as was the case when the local authority was last inspected in 2017.
“Effective multi-agency engagement and partners’ contributions lead to timely and proportionate responses to the risks identified at the time of referral. When children’s needs do not meet the threshold for statutory services, a range of options are considered, including referral to the family support service for an assessment of their needs,” said the report.
The director of children’s services at Rutland and his senior leadership team are ambitious for children in the borough, Ofsted has said.
In a focused visit to Rutland, inspectors said senior management has a realistic understanding of service strengths and areas that still require improvement.
“The local authority has a permanent, stable and motivated workforce. Responses to child protection concerns are prompt. Investigations relating to allegations about professionals are thoroughly investigated by the designated officer, and responses to children at risk of exploitation are improving,” said the report.
Frequent changes in senior managers at Reading and a high turnover of frontline staff continue to adversely impact on managers’ ability to bring about improvement, said Ofsted.
The eighth monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in June 2016 said that a new interim director of children’s services has been in post since the beginning of March 2019 and a permanent deputy director started in November 2018.
“The recent recruitment of permanent team managers is a positive step, but the instability and interim status of large parts of the workforce indicate ongoing fragility. Caseloads remain too high in some access and assessment teams,” said the report.
Torbay continues to struggle recruiting social workers
Torbay children’s services continues to struggle recruiting sufficient social workers in the safeguarding and family support service, Ofsted has warned.
Due to the serious and widespread child protection concerns identified in the January 2019 monitoring visit, inspectors revisited and evaluated the quality of help and protection provided to vulnerable children and their families in safeguarding assessment teams (SATs) and in the safeguarding and family support service (SAFS).
“Since the previous visit, recruiting enough experienced social workers has been difficult. Senior leaders responded appropriately by redeploying staff from the intensive family support service to the SATs. Initially, this helped to reduce social work caseloads, but this reduction has not been sustained. High caseloads in the longer-term SAFS persist, and there are too few social workers to carry out the work needed. Consequently, too many children are not seen often enough by the same worker,” said the report.
Issues and concerns about the quality, impact and effectiveness of assessments and plans, identified at the time of the last inspection of Wigan children’s services in February 2017, have not been fully resolved, Ofsted has warned.
Needs and risks are identified appropriately, and inspectors did not find any evidence of children being left at immediate and unassessed risk of significant harm, the focused visit of the authority found.
“But the quality of assessments is still too variable. Plans are still not easy to understand or use and, as a result, core groups and child in need (CIN) review meetings are not as effective as they should be in monitoring and evaluating progress,” said the report.
“Social workers are still not always getting the right level of critical challenge and case direction from supervision that they need and deserve.”
North Somerset needs to improve performance management information
The quality and range of performance management information available and used by senior leaders at North Somerset needs to improve, Ofsted has said.
The range of performance information available to senior leaders is not comprehensive enough, and they do not have sufficient oversight of the quality of frontline practice and the timeliness of interventions to safeguard children in this part of the service, a focused visit of the authority found.
“North Somerset children’s services were last inspected by Ofsted in 2017, when the overall effectiveness of services was judged to require improvement to be good. Since then, senior leaders have focused on improving services for vulnerable children. However, not all areas identified for improvement have been fully addressed,” said the report.
Serious weaknesses identified at front door decision making at North East Lincs
Serious weaknesses in front door decision-making has been identified at North East Lincolnshire children’s services that fail to effectively protect children at risk of significant harm.
In a focused visit of North East Lincolnshire where inspectors reviewed the local authority’s arrangements for responding to contacts and referrals at their ‘front door’, the Families First Access Point (FFAP), Ofsted warned the council that the weaknesses fail to ensure that vulnerable children have their needs met.
“The screening of contacts to children’s social care is not consistently effective. Children’s histories are not routinely considered in order to understand their experiences, and decisions on contacts are made without the fullest of information. The recording of child protection enquiries is poor,” said the report. “Managers cannot reassure themselves that strategy meetings and subsequent child protection investigations are effective in exploring risk and understanding safeguarding needs. The quality of assessments is weak, and they lack depth in appreciating children’s life experiences. Plans are often too vague and do not focus on children’s needs. As a result, inspectors saw children who were unsafe whose needs were not being identified and addressed.”
Senior leadership in Lambeth is robust and there is a determination to improve outcomes for children and young people in the care of the local authority, Ofsted has said.
The quality of permanence planning is improving and children are seen regularly, and some are benefiting from more timely intervention.
“However, senior managers recognise that there is still a considerable amount of work to do to ensure effective and timely permanence planning for all children and young people,” said the report.
Tangible progress is evident in the adoption service, which was judged inadequate at the last inspection in 2018, and the timescales have improved significantly for most of the children who have been adopted recently. Social workers are very positive about working in Lambeth and have good access to training.
Widespread and serious weaknesses at West Sussex children’s services have resulted in an Ofsted rating of ‘inadequate’.
Services have seriously declined since the last inspection, when all areas were judged to require improvement to be good, an inspection of children’s services has revealed.
“The quality of help and support that children receive is a lottery and depends on where they live. Children experience a negative impact from the considerable turnover of the social workers and managers and from the substantial variability in the quality of assessment and intervention,” said the report.
“Most social work practice is weak. Risks to children are seldom recognised, and social workers do not see children frequently enough. Children’s views are not often included in assessments and plans, and their records are rarely up to date. Children in care wait too long for their permanence to be confirmed. Drift and delay are evident at every stage of the child’s journey. This is particularly true for children living in neglectful circumstances. These critical weaknesses span across all social work teams. Consequently, some children remain without the protection and care that they need,” it added.
Improvements highlighted at Cheshire West and Chester
Leaders and managers at Cheshire West and Chester children’s services have continued to improve provision for children and families, according to Ofsted.
Since the previous inspection of children’s services in 2015 under the Single Inspection Framework as well as the Joint Targeted Area Inspection in 2017, managers have taken positive action to address the recommendations and findings from these inspections.
“There have been significant improvements within early help and prevention (EHP) and the ‘front door’, plus a focus on edge of care and on restructuring services for disabled children, which means that most children in receipt of these services have good support.
For a small number of children, there is further work required to be done to ensure that information is gained from all relevant agencies through strategy meetings before decisions are made,” said the report.
Senior leaders at South Gloucestershire have made some gains in improving the majority of services for children and young people, following a slow start, Ofsted has said.
The local authority was judged to be inadequate when it was inspected in 2016 but recently accelerated progress against the improvement plan has ensured that outcomes for most children are now improving in most areas of the service, although not all recommendations from the inspection in 2016 have been fully addressed.
“Emerging strengths are evident in the quality of direct work with children and a greater focus on achieving early permanence for children. A culture of learning and self-reflection is being embedded. Senior leaders have significantly strengthened quality assurance arrangements. Effective use has been made of improvement partners, and key messages and findings from audit activity and performance information have enabled senior leaders to target areas for development. While performance information is routinely scrutinised by managers at all levels, it does not always result in practice improvements,” said the report.
There has been widespread deterioration in the quality of local authority services for children in Trafford as a result of failures in leadership, Ofsted has stated.
Judging the authority to be inadequate in an inspection of children’s services, Ofsted said that services had declined since the last inspection in 2015, where services were rated as good overall and leadership and services for care leavers rated as outstanding.
“At the start of this inspection, the self-assessment and the presentation from senior leaders made clear that they believed services remained good or outstanding. They had no awareness of the decline in services and no accurate understanding of the current quality of practice,” said the report.
“A lack of effective management oversight of practice at all levels had led to leaders and managers being unaware of significant weaknesses, such as those at the multi-agency referral and assessment team (MARAT). Had the inspection not taken place, weaknesses would not have been recognised and no action would have been taken. Given the widespread deterioration of services, and the serious lack of recognition or action by leaders, the overall effectiveness of local authority services for children is inadequate,” the report added.
Strengthened performance management at Middlesbrough
There has been substantial investment and support from Middlesbrough council, peers and partners to improve services for children in the authority, Ofsted has said.
Middlesbrough local authority children’s services are actively addressing shortfalls in the provision of services to children and young people through a comprehensive programme of improvement. Their self-assessment accurately reflects where they are in their improvement journey and what more they need to do to improve quality and consistency of practice.
A focused visit last year of the ‘front door’ highlighted weaknesses in practice in relation to management oversight and decision-making, assessment timeliness and partnership working. Data analysis wasn’t sophisticated enough to allow the local authority to have an accurate understanding of the demand for services and to provide appropriate levels of staffing. The improvement plan needed to measure success in relation to how the lives and outcomes for children are improved.
At that visit, inspectors saw weaknesses in the quality of practice for children in need of help and protection. Since that time, the local authority has taken decisive action, including restructuring services and increasing capacity in frontline social work teams.
Better understanding of frontline practice at Sandwell
Senior leaders at Sandwell Children’s Trust have developed a greater understanding of frontline practice, Ofsted has said.
A focus on service delivery, interrogation of performance information and audits has led to the better understanding of frontline practice, Ofsted said following the fourth monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in January 2018.
“However, more needs to be done to develop the quality and consistency of audits and to understand the impact on children’s outcomes. Progress against the improvement plan has been maintained. Given the size of the task, improvements are incremental and there remains a lot still to do,” said the report.
Some concerns from last inspection of Liverpool remain
Caseloads remain too high for some social workers and Independent Reviewing Officers at Liverpool children’s services, Ofsted has warned.
Liverpool children’s services were inspected in May 2018, when all areas were judged to require improvement to be good. Although there has been some work done to improve services since this inspection, this has led to minimal impact on the experiences and outcomes for some children in care.
“Some of the inspectors’ findings highlight that the concerns raised in the May 2018 inspection remain,” said Ofsted following the focused visit of the authority.
Gloucestershire children’s services is making slow progress in improving services for its children and young people, Ofsted has said.
The senior leadership team has a clear vision and coherent improvement plan to develop and deliver high-quality services to children and families in Gloucestershire, which it is successfully implementing.
“While there are early indicators of improvements in some areas of practice, there is considerable variability across teams. Overall, key areas that make a difference to children’s lives, such as being seen quickly, being kept safe and developing trusting relationships with social workers, are not yet good enough,” said the Ofsted report.
Kingston upon Hull Council has failed to deliver the improvements needed, specifically to children’s circumstances and experiences, since the last inspection, Ofsted has warned.
Rating the authority as ‘inadequate’, Ofsted said that following the appointment of a new director of children’s services, some important aspects of leadership have strengthened.
However, the actions that leaders have taken have not sufficiently addressed the weaknesses in frontline practice and management oversight, in particular for children in need of help and protection.
“There are widespread and serious failures in the recognition of risk and in the quality of social work practice for children in need of help and protection. A lack of authoritative practice by social workers and managers means that risk and need are not identified quickly enough for too many children. Arrangements to safeguard children with specific vulnerabilities, such as disabled children, children living in private fostering arrangements, and 16-year-old homeless children, are ineffective,” said the report.
Devon children’s services has succeeded in stabilising the workforce at all levels and in bringing down social work caseloads to a manageable level, Ofsted has said.
Senior leaders, including elected members, have appropriately focused their time and energy on creating an environment in which children can receive a better service than when Devon local authority children’s services were last inspected by Ofsted in 2015.
“Some inconsistency remains in the application of thresholds across the county. Assessments are of a variable quality and do not routinely inform plans for children. The majority are detailed and updated on time but often lack analysis, professional curiosity and the voice of children and their families. Planning is not clearly linked to reducing identified risks and lacks clarity for families in some cases. Team managers provide support to social workers, but don’t challenge enough when the lives of children in need have not improved as expected,” said the report.
Suffolk’s children’s services have been rated as outstanding by Ofsted.
Stable and aspirational leadership and strong political and financial support have created conditions that are conductive to continuous improvement and the development of sustainable, high-quality services, the report said.
“Services for children are of an exceptionally high standard. They are child-focused and make a positive difference to children’s lives. Workers build positive and purposeful working relationships with children and their families. They ensure that children are safeguarded, and that their wider needs are addressed. They consistently act to ensure the best outcomes for children,” said the report.
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