Variable progress has been noted by Ofsted inspectors during a monitoring visit to Gloucestershire.
The second monitoring visit of the authority since it was judged inadequate in March 2017 found that senior leaders have recently implemented a wide range of improvement frameworks and these have been well supported by significant financial investment and additional resource in children’s services.
“However, this investment is too recent to demonstrate improved services and outcomes for children and, overall, the pace of change remains too slow,” said the report.
The inspection focused on the services for children requiring help and protection. It found that while inspectors saw some improvement since the last monitoring visit, children in need of help and protection in Gloucestershire continue to experience delay at every point of their involvement with children’s services. Some children remain in situations of unassessed risk for too long, and others experience chronic neglect or continue to be exposed to risk without effective action being taken to protect them, this is particularly the case for young people experiencing or at risk of sexual exploitation.
The local authority has been successful in recruiting suitably qualified and experienced social workers and managers. The majority of social workers now have manageable caseloads and the number of children without a named social worker has decreased. Staff morale and confidence in the senior leadership team has improved since the last monitoring visit and this has been assisted by more manageable caseloads, improved technology and accessibility of line managers.
Since the last monitoring visit, good strategic engagement between the local authority and the police has been effective in reducing delay in police notifications of children considered to be at medium risk of domestic abuse. However, strategic engagement to improve joint work between police and children’s services when children are at risk of significant harm has been less effective and police officers do not routinely attend strategy discussions or jointly undertake child protection enquiries where there is clear evidence of significant harm.
Records of strategy discussions that are held are generally of poor quality; meetings are not consistently attended by key agencies such as health services and the rationale for subsequent decision-making and the actions taken is not clear in the majority of cases seen.
“The quality of social work practice is too variable,” said the report. “Inspectors saw some children whose needs and risks were clearly identified and whose outcomes were improving as a result of more effective practice. However, some children live in circumstances in which they continue to be exposed to risks as a result of sexual exploitation, domestic abuse or neglect, with little or no evidence of sustained positive change.”
Gloucestershire has, however, addressed a large backlog of unallocated cases. The majority of assessments are now completed within the maximum national timescales of 45 working days. However, further improvements are necessary to ensure that children’s needs are assessed and that they receive effective services within a timescale that is right for them.
“The local authority has now put in place the appropriate foundations to improve practice through the successful recruitment of social workers, increase in management capacity and establishment of systems for monitoring performance. The local authority recognises that the pace of change must now accelerate to ensure that children in need of help and protection receive a timely and effective response,” the report concluded.