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Overly adult-focused work found at Hackney

The quality of practice for a substantial number of vulnerable children has not been sustained at the London Borough of Hackney since the last Ofsted inspection in 2016, inspectors have warned.

In 2016, services for children in need of help and protection were judged to be good, however, too many children in too many cases seen are subject to multiple assessments and interventions, sometimes over several years, which do not improve outcomes for children quickly enough.

"In some cases, the determination of workers to work alongside families to achieve change, combined with an overly optimistic assessment of parental ability or willingness to change, has led to overly adult-focused work," said the report. "In such cases, the child’s lived experience is not given sufficient consideration. Work with avoidant parents, or where disguised compliance is a feature, lacks timely action, and inspectors saw the damaging impact of this drift and delay on children in the majority of the cases considered."

During the focused visit to London Borough of Hackney local authority children’s services, which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for children in need and those made subject to a child protection plan, inspectors found some examples of strong analytical assessments, including pre-birth assessments, and the more timely escalation of actions to address concerns for some children. In the majority of cases, social workers and managers have a thorough understanding about family dynamics, and records are clear and up to date.

The report highlighted:

- Social workers know their children well, and while great care is taken to understand parental and family histories, in too many cases considered, the resulting work is adult-focused.

- In cases seen, risk assessment of males or dominant partners is not sufficiently robust or is not completed quickly enough.

- Current performance management systems to track whether children in need are visited within prescribed timescales are insufficiently robust for managers to have adequate oversight of all the children for whom they are responsible.

- Independent chairs are beginning to monitor cases between conferences, but the impact to improve outcomes is not consistent.

- Most children benefit from regular multi-agency child in need or child protection core group meetings, and progress is updated against the plan and further actions identified. However, for some children known to the local authority for many years, actions and analysis of progress are not specified.

- Yet inspectors also noted that children who go missing or who are at risk of sexual exploitation are visited promptly by specialist police and social workers to establish that they are safe and to understand the reasons for these episodes of going missing. Families benefit from access to a wide range of resources, including an integrated clinical team that supports the practice of systemic social work.

- The local authority has a strong focus on auditing and self-evaluation to improve practice and the embedded use of a systemic social work model has created an environment in which social workers feel listened to and are supported to develop their skills and knowledge.

"Staff morale is good, social workers feel valued and safe, and, as a result, the social care workforce is stable. Clinical practitioners provide training and reflective practice groups for social workers, who do not feel overwhelmed by complex cases. The focus on learning and professional development is a strength. Social workers report that caseloads are manageable," the report concluded.

Hackney needs to take swift and decisive action to address the timeliness and effectiveness of social work practice and interventions to safeguard children from harm and the quality and effectiveness of managerial oversight and supervision to ensure that children’s circumstances improve within their timeframe.

In order to improve social work practice, Hackney should also ensure children’s daily lived experiences are central to all work and ensure the application of thresholds to protect children on child in need plans when risks escalate or children’s circumstances do not improve within children’s timeframes.

Performance data regarding the timeliness and impact of social work practice to improve children’s circumstances needs work and plans need to be more specific and detailed about what needs to change and by when. There should also be greater consideration of men, including abusive partners, in risk assessments.

Focused visit to London Borough of Hackney local authority children’s services.

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