The pace of improvement at South Gloucestershire is too slow, Ofsted has warned.
In the second monitoring visit since the authority was rated inadequate in February 2017, inspectors said children in South Gloucestershire continue to experience systemic delays in receiving the help that they need. Risk to children continues not to be consistently identified or addressed by social workers and their managers.
“Quality assurance of casework through auditing activity is too variable and does not always identify or address poor practice,” said the report. “Senior managers were aware of some, but not all, of the deficits seen by inspectors on this visit.”
While the local authority’s detailed action plan sets appropriate priorities and actions, required improvements to practice have not yet been achieved. Senior managers are not yet providing social workers and team managers with sufficiently clear expected practice standards, the report highlights.
Fundamental improvements required to provide consistent, safe and effective services for children and families, such as ensuring that all children are visited within timescales that meet their needs, are not yet sufficiently embedded.
The application of thresholds is not sufficiently well understood or applied in response to referrals for children in need of help or protection by all managers and social workers. Poor recognition of risk in assessments and plans, particularly in relation to children living with domestic abuse, results in delays in responding to some children who are at risk of significant harm. Staff supervision and management oversight of casework, while regular, are not yet addressing these deficits.
Social workers do not always request timely and comprehensive information from partner agencies to plan effectively for children. When children are first identified as being in need of help, the right type of support is not always available.
The response to children in need of protection continues to be inconsistent and, in a small number of cases seen, managers and social workers’ poor identification of risk delayed strategy meetings. As a result, some children remained in circumstances of continuing or unknown risk before protective action was taken.
Although the timeliness of initial child protection conferences has recently significantly improved the quality of child protection plans in cases seen is poor and plans lack clear contingency arrangements. Child protection plans are poorly written, and are difficult for parents to understand.
Early help given to children and their families is not monitored to ensure that it is providing sustained improved outcomes for children.
While all team managers have received supervision training, this has not improved the quality of supervision records, which do not yet include consistent, comprehensive and purposeful action plans to benefit social work practice.
Inspectors saw examples of social workers undertaking good creative direct work with young children and sensitive effective work with older children, but children’s case files do not always describe this work.
However, inspectors noted:
Social workers’ caseloads have reduced since the last monitoring visit. Staff seen by inspectors are positive about working for South Gloucestershire and morale is good. Social workers consistently report good management support, manageable workloads and regular supervision that identifies their training needs. They have access to a variety of good quality training and their managers support them to attend.
However, although an internal quality assurance of casework through audit is in place, auditing of casework and the dissemination to staff of the lessons learned are not yet sufficiently influencing practice or leading to improvements in outcomes for children. The quality of audits seen on this visit was poor and shows significant decline since the previous monitoring visit.
Diane Wills is Consultant Social Worker at WillisPalmer, responsible for quality assuring the forensic risk assessment reports.
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