There are significant deficits in the quality of practice in assessments, children’s plans, manager oversight and supervision quality at all operational levels at Bradford children's services, Ofsted has said.
Further issues remain in the resilience and capacity of the workforce and in partners’ contribution to keeping children safe and improving their experience and progress, the report said following the third monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in September 2018.
"The local authority is making progress in improving services for children in need of help and protection in some discrete areas of practice, but the pace of change has been too slow," said the report.
Since the last monitoring visit, a new permanent director of children’s services has taken up post and a newly recruited deputy director with experience of improvement work started in November. Since coming into post in July 2019, the DCS has appropriately taken the time to understand the scale of the improvement required, and is embarking on a restructure of the service. It is planned that this restructure will reduce the number of transition points for children and families, increase managerial oversight and place children’s social work teams in local communities alongside early help provision.
However, there has been improvement in the timeliness of child protection conferences, in reducing the numbers of children who have experienced delay while in pre-proceedings, and in reducing most social work caseloads. Further changes have been made to the visiting frequency for children and supervision practice standards, and in developing the quality assurance framework. A new threshold document has been developed to support professionals to make appropriate referrals. Children on the edge of care are being effectively supported to remain safely at home - whereas this practice was in its early stages at the time of the last inspection.
"There are some discrete areas of strength, some areas where improvement is occurring, and some areas where we considered that progress has not met the expectations and ambitions of the local authority," the report added.
- Senior managers and leaders recognise that there is considerably more work to do to improve the quality of practice for children in need of help and protection.
- Senior leaders recognise that workforce instability brings with it several risks, including inconsistency in the quality of practice. Consequently, the recruitment and retention of staff are appropriately priorities for improvement.
- The overly bureaucratic processes reported in the last monitoring visit are now being addressed through embedding human resources in children’s social care in order to support a more seamless recruitment process reducing unnecessary delay.
- There is some effective social work practice, which is improving the experience and progress for some children.
- Social work caseloads are reducing due to additional capacity being provided in localities where demand is greatest.
- Since the last inspection, senior managers’ oversight of work in pre-proceedings has significantly improved through more effective tracking and monitoring which is successfully reducing the drift and delay that children had previously experienced.
- When children are at risk of coming into care, the ‘B Positive’ pathway team effectively supports children to remain safely at home. It also supports children who are in care to return home to their families.
- Senior managers have recently implemented an improved performance dataset, which is enabling frontline managers to address compliance with key performance indicators. Since the last monitoring visit, the quality assurance framework has been developed to better support an understanding of practice.
However, the significant instability of the workforce at all levels has hindered the pace of change, and, to date, this has been too slow. A continuing risk to improvement is the lack of resilience in the workforce. This is evidenced by a recent deterioration in performance over the summer, when social workers were on leave, the report stated.
Many children are experiencing delay in receiving an initial protective response and in having their needs identified and met.
Too many changes in social worker means discontinuity for children, and this is impacting on the timely progression of their plans. There are delays for children in being able to access timely support and interventions, particularly for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, domestic abuse services, and intensive family support, Ofsted added.
Assessment reports and casework, in some cases, are overly optimistic and lack professional curiosity in testing out parental self-reporting. This has resulted, in these cases, in premature case closure before work has been completed or change has been tested. It also means that, for a small number of children, risk was not fully understood or managed.
Conference minutes do not provide a clear and accountable record of the information shared. As a result, it is difficult to understand what the priority actions are to address immediate risks.
Children’s care planning and the quality of child protection plans are not sufficiently robust. Plans are overly descriptive and many lack clarity about the support to be offered to achieve change, the focus, and the timescales for the change to be achieved.
Key professionals do not always attend critical meetings, including conferences and some core groups. This is particularly the case for health services. This means that there are missed opportunities to maximise a wider professional network to support safety planning and reduce risk, the report warned.
There is improved management oversight, but management challenge is not sufficiently robust. In some cases, drift and delay remain for children. Supervision of staff is now taking place, but it is not always regular, and it is not supporting staff well enough to improve their practice or helping to drive forward plans for children.
"Audits have shown that there is more to do to improve the quality of social work practice in relation to assessment, plans, management footprint and the voice of the child. These are identified by the local authority in its self-evaluation, which provides an accurate understanding of its areas for improvement," the report concluded.
Monitoring visit of Bradford children’s services