Changes in the senior leadership team at Dorset and local government re-organisation have significantly impacted on the pace of improvement in children’s services, Ofsted has said.
Many areas of improvement identified in the single inspection in 2016 had not improved at the point of the JTAI in 2018. But children are now benefiting from much better help and protection.
"However, the variability in key practice areas, such as assessment and planning, aligned with some inconsistency in the application of threshold at key decision-making points, means that not all children receive a consistently good service," said the report following the focused visit to Dorset which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for children in need and those subject to a child protection plan.
The new executive director of children’s services and her senior team recognise that the quality of practice remains too variable. They have a clear understanding of what needs to improve. They have embarked on a whole system transformation programme. Their ambitious approach is thoughtful, with an initial focus on stabilising the workforce.
The investment and training in relationship-based social work practice has reinvigorated the workforce. Social workers now talk confidently about their approach and can demonstrate the difference that this makes to children’s lives.
Quality assurance systems are in place, but these do not provide senior leaders with a realistic understanding of the quality of practice or help them to understand the experience of children.
The report highlighted that:
- Children in need of help and protection are increasingly benefiting from stronger and more consistent relationships with their social workers.
- Most assessments detail sufficiently children’s needs and presenting risk, with the needs of brothers and sisters differentiated.
- Most children are seen in line with their plan, and, at times, more frequently, such as during school holidays or at times of increased family difficulties.
- Some children benefit from creative and impactful direct work, which helps them to make sense of their experiences.
- Effective and regular use of advocates helps children to express their views about the help they receive.
- Social workers make regular and effective use of family group conferences to engage members of the extended family and wider networks in children’s plans.
- Core groups and reviews take place regularly and are well attended by multi-agency partners, who engage effectively to provide help and support to children and their families.
- In the last four months, supervision has started to take place regularly and in line with expectations.
- Senior leaders use a range of management information and audit findings to help them to understand the quality of practice.
However, child protection conferences do not consistently make the right decision about when to start, continue or cease child protection plans, which means that some children are not getting the help or protection they need quickly enough or for long enough.
Chronologies are mostly system generated and therefore do not help social workers and managers to understand children’s histories and key events in their lives.
Assessments do vary in quality and are not consistently informed by family history.
While most children are seen in line with their plan, this is not the experience of all children. The local authority’s own performance information reports that 41% of children subject to child protection plans are not visited within timescales. Senior leaders are aware of this and are acting to ensure that children are seen, as well as to improve the quality of recording when children have been seen.
Purposeful direct work is not routinely undertaken with all children, which means that their views do not clearly inform plans and decisions.
The quality of children in need and child protection plans is variable. In the best examples seen, plans are explicit about what needs to happen and what help and support will be provided to children and their families. Initial plans from conferences are too brief, simplistic and global for parents to fully understand what needs to happen. Consequently, children do not always receive the right help and support when they need it. The more detailed plans developed in core groups are more specific and measurable.
While supervision has become more frequent, it is not yet sufficiently reflective or challenging, nor is it effective in ensuring progression of children’s plans. This means that not all children’s circumstances improve within a timescale that is right for them.
Audits are overly focused on process and compliance, rather than the experience of the child. This means that senior leaders are not sufficiently alert to the impact of practice on children’s experiences and whether a positive difference is being made to their lives.
In order to improve, Dorset should address the quality of chronologies, so that they help social workers to better understand the impact of children’s histories and what this means for their plans in the future.
The effectiveness of management oversight needs to improve, including by child protection conference chairs, so that plans progress and improve children’s situations within a timescale that is right for them.
Audits should be improved so that greater focus is given to the experience of children.
Focused visit to Dorset children’s services