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Pace of improvement at Bradford is not swift enough

The interim strategic director at Bradford has brought much-needed skills and experience to the local authority which has assisted in improving services since the last inspection, Ofsted has said.

Inspectors saw some positive improvements in assessment quality and in the immediate response to child protection concerns, but also several areas in which insufficient progress has been made.

"Senior managers are fully aware of the practice deficits. While they have taken some positive actions, the pace of improvement in key areas is not swift enough. This is resulting in delays in children in need and children in need of protection having their needs identified and addressed," said the report.

Inspectors highlighted that there is some effective social work practice being undertaken by committed and skilled social workers. However, the local authority’s own audits judge most of the case work to be inadequate. There are weaknesses in management grip of social work practice at all levels. Quality assurance is not focused on improving learning across the workforce.

The lack of urgency to recruit to permanent social work posts is resulting in inconsistent services to children and their families, the report added. Social work caseloads vary from small numbers to over 50 children. Where caseloads are high, this inhibits social workers’ capacity to develop trusting relationships with children and their families and to deliver good-quality social work for all children.

There has been a decline in some aspects of the front door services. Too many children are being inappropriately referred to social care by other agencies which is seriously impacting on the capability of the front door team to respond to contacts and referrals in a timely way.

In this second monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in September 2018, inspectors reviewed the immediate response to children in need of help and protection and the quality and timeliness of assessments and plans.

The report highlighted:

- An experienced and skilled DCS has been in post for the past seven months and the new permanent DCS is due to start on 1 July 2019.

- Senior leaders have focused tenaciously on employing additional agency and temporary staff and this has increased workforce capacity. However, there have been issues about the quality of the work of some of those staff and too many have been leaving at short notice, impacting negatively on children’s lives.

- There have been delays in recruitment to permanent social work and management posts due to overly bureaucratic processes within the wider council, although recruitment to these posts is now proceeding.

- The self-assessment accurately reports that while some managers are contributing well to improving the lives of some children, this is not consistent across all social work teams.

- Supervision is not held regularly for all social workers, with some experiencing lengthy periods between these meetings. Managers are generally available for consultation, but this is not well recorded.

- Some social workers have over 50 cases and they reported to inspectors that they experience serious challenges in delivering a consistently good service to children and their families. Senior managers monitor the size of social work caseloads and have taken action to reduce these, however, inspectors could not yet see the impact of these changes.

- The local authority considers the vast majority of the areas of social work support being scrutinised on this visit remains inadequate.

- There continues to be a legacy of poor practice, which has not been addressed. This, together with current drift and delay in casework, means that not all children have their needs identified and responded to soon enough.

- A programme of auditing has been introduced since the last inspection and while this is evidence of progress, it is not leading to consistently improving practice.

- A small number of the assessments seen by inspectors were of a high quality. However, most assessments were poor, with common weaknesses, including the failure to address the needs of all the children in a family, and not always recognising risk.

- The quality of the response to concerns raised by other agencies at the front door has declined since Ofsted’s last visit in March 2019. Part of this is due to the increase in the number of referrals from other agencies which do not need children’s services involvement.

- In the main, urgent child protection concerns are recognised promptly and appropriate actions are then taken. Strategy meetings are well attended by social workers and West Yorkshire Police, although less well by other key agencies. However, the recordings of the meetings lack the necessary detail to inform decision-making.

"The vast majority of social workers who met with inspectors were very positive about working for Bradford. They spoke highly about support from their team colleagues and their access to a good range of training. They also reported being kept informed and involved in service developments by the DCS, including regular large-scale meetings with staff, emailed staff briefings and personal recognition of good practice," said the report.

"They fully understood current weaknesses in the service and were committed to the goal of improving practice for the children of Bradford," the report concluded.

Monitoring visit of Bradford local authority children’s services

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