Since the last inspection of Oldham children's services in 2015, strategic leadership has not delivered continuous improvement of services for children, Ofsted has said.
During 2016–17, although leaders had access to performance data, they had insufficient understanding of the quality of social work practice, the inspection of Oldham children’s social care services found. While they recognised that the demand for services was increasing substantially and acted to increase the capacity of frontline staff, this was not sufficient to improve services for children.
"Since the appointment of an interim DCS in March 2018, the local authority has developed an accurate evaluation of the quality of social work practice. Extensive independent auditing revealed that services had deteriorated since the inspection in 2015, and that significant improvement was required. The DCS developed strategic plans for transformation of services, including a structural investment plan and a new operating model," said the report.
The inspection found that Oldham requires improvement to be good.
- Regarding the experiences and progress of children who need help and protection which requires improvement to be good inspectors noted:
- Children do not always get a good service because of inconsistency in the quality of the assessment of their needs and care planning.
- Stepping cases up from early help does not result in an effective assessment of need for all children.
- Once started, too many child protection investigations end without professionals gathering and evaluating all the information or giving thorough consideration about whether an initial child protection conference (ICPC) is required.
- Managers review social workers’ written work, and record this on children’s files, but their oversight does not always challenge poor practice or the lack of progress for some children.
- Disabled children do not receive a thorough assessment of their needs or care planning that leads to their needs being met.
However inspectors noted children and families are provided with a wide range of early help support that they can access when needed. Children who are at risk of harm are referred to the MASH by partner agencies, and they get an effective response from appropriately qualified and experienced staff.
When children are at risk of immediate harm, multi-agency strategy meetings are convened quickly to share information about families, evaluate risk and plan investigations. Other vulnerable groups, such as children and young people at risk of forced marriage and honour-based violence, are responded to well in Oldham and children at risk are responded to effectively.
With regards to the experience and progress of children in care and care leavers which requires improvement to be good, the report stated:
- Children in care and care leavers do not experience consistently good social work practice. Some experience delay in coming into care, others do not move to permanent placements soon enough, and some care leavers do not have good-quality planning and support to help them achieve to their highest potential.
- The response to children on the edge of care is not always effective and is sometimes based on unrealistic assessments of the level of risk.
- Children in care do not all have their needs re-assessed when circumstances change and many children do not have their care plans updated often enough.
- Children are seen, and their views are recorded, but they do not all routinely have the chance to develop a meaningful relationship with their social workers due to too many changes in workers in many teams.
Yet inspectors highlighted that children have their health needs met well, including the provision of support with their emotional health and well-being. Stronger leadership of the virtual school over the last 12 months has supported improved educational provision for many children in care.
Most children live in appropriate and stable placements that meet their needs. Children are identified for adoption at an early stage and are assigned a specialist worker from the adoption team to support timely adoption planning.
Furthermore, care leavers now get a service from staff who know them well and who provide sensitive support. This is because previous structural and systemic failings, which gave care leavers a poor service, have recently been improved.
Ofsted said the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families requires improvement to be good. Inspectors highlighted:
- Strategic leadership has not provided continuous improvement of services for children since the last inspection in 2015.
- The focus on achieving compliance within the service has led to audits being focused on this, rather than on evaluating the quality and impact of social work practice.
- Although additional capacity has resulted in reduction in caseloads for all staff, caseloads remain too high in some teams.
However, senior leaders have given their full support to plans for transformation of children’s services proposed by the DCS. Senior leaders now maintain an accurate understanding of the quality of services for children through increased scrutiny of more detailed and holistic performance management information.
The workforce in Oldham, many of whom have worked with the local authority for a long time, are committed to the proposed changes to improve practice. Staff talked to inspectors about feeling that the service is getting better and said that there is a sense of being on a ‘journey of
Newly qualified social workers, and those in their first year of social work, are well supported in Oldham, the report says.
"A great deal of work has been undertaken to gain a thorough understanding of the services that children receive. Some progress has been made, but this has not had an impact for all children. Some children in Oldham have had poor experiences of services and there remains a great deal of work to do before the service provided for all children is good," the report concluded.
In order to improve social work practice, Oldham should improve the quality of assessments to effectively analyse risks and parents’ capacity to meet children’s needs. Care planning should have clear outcomes that measure and evaluate progress for children. There also needs to be effective assessments of the needs of disabled children that lead to wellcoordinated planning to meet their needs.
Oldham should also focus on improving the quality of evidence gathering during child protection investigations and the timeliness and effectiveness of pathway plans that lead to provision of effective support into independence.
The internal audit of practice needs work to provide effective analysis of the impact on children and management oversight and practice leadership needs to improve at all levels in the organisation to ensure that consistent, and good quality, social work practice is in place.