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Pace of improvement at Knowlsey is slow

The pace of improvement at Knowsley has been slow and has not had a significant impact on the overall quality of practice, Ofsted has said.
A focused visit took place in October 2018, which inspected the quality of work in the multi-agency front door, and which found progress ‘has been sustained and built on’. While the local authority has continued with developments since that visit, the pace has been slow.
As a result, Ofsted found "the quality of work with children in need and children subject to child protection planning seen during this visit was very similar to that reported on during the inspection in 2017".
"For the majority of children, assessments are of good quality and lead to intervention that helps them. However, there continue to be some children whose needs are not well understood and for whom care planning is not effective and does not lead to timely improvement of their circumstances," the report said.
The focused visit looked at the local authority’s arrangements for children in need of help and protection, and specifically those who are being supported by child in need and child protection planning. They also considered children who are identified as living in private fostering arrangements.
Inspectors found:
- For the vast majority of children seen during this visit, social workers were spending time and building relationships with children and their families.
- Assessments are timely in relation to the needs of children and cover key issues, including the wishes and feelings of children. The majority contain good-quality historical information, and lead to effective analysis and recommendations.
- Children and their families are provided with a range of appropriate support and services during the period of assessment.
- For most children, multi-agency meetings are attended by their parents or carers. Children’s views are usually well represented, and some children attend their meetings and contribute to their planning.
- Audit activity is undertaken regularly and the tools and processes of audit, including some feedback from families, are in place and understood.
- Knowsley has an enthusiastic and stable workforce. Social workers feel that the local authority is supportive and well structured, and that there is easy access to senior managers. Staff have good access to training and development opportunities.
- Newly qualified social workers are well supported, and their workloads are protected.
However, for other, more experienced, staff, caseloads are often too high to allow them enough time to deliver consistently good-quality practice. In addition, team managers have large spans of control, which impacts on their ability to ensure effective monitoring of the quality of all work with children. There is also a lack of capacity at senior management level, with existing managers trying to cover too many roles. Although this situation has existed for some time, action has only recently been taken, with an additional head of service post now created alongside some additional capacity to improve quality assurance activity.
The report found that a minority of assessments are weaker, and this leads to poor planning and intervention for some children and means that their situations are not always improving quickly enough. Weaker assessments often list historical information, but do not go on to explore this in the assessment or include it in analysis, instead only focusing on the immediate presenting issue.
There is a lack of information or analysis of the absent parent, or of other adult males living in the home which leaves aspects of children’s lives not fully understood and results in insufficient analysis of parenting capacity and gaps in care planning.
While all children have a written plan with some outcomes and actions identified, plans do not consistently include measurable outcomes and timescales. When plans are reviewed, there is often too much focus on the compliance of parents with tasks, rather than on an evaluation of progress or impact for children.
Ofsted also found that for some children, the plans of support do not improve their lives. This is often recognised and recorded, but little action is taken to change the approach. Professionals are too slow to re-evaluate children’s situations or consider alternative approaches. Effective contingency plans are rarely in place, and this leads to professionals continuing with ineffective plans, or advocating for a higher level of statutory intervention without considering how the intervention itself needs to change.
Attendance of partners at core groups and child in need meetings is inconsistent. In many cases, representatives from partner agencies working with families do not attend consistently, leading to gaps in information-sharing and a lack of coherent review of progress.
There is evidence that, for most children, managers have oversight of the work done with them through discussions in regular formal supervision. However, this does not ensure that the quality of work with children is consistently good, or that plans are improving situations for children.
Changes in management oversight of private fostering arrangements that have been put in place since the most recent inspection have not led to an improvement to the quality of practice, the report added.
Audit quality is not consistent and the view of what constitutes good is not aspirational enough for children. The majority of audits do not result in learning for social workers, or support improvements in their practice.
"Senior leaders have ensured that previous progress to improve the experiences of children has been maintained and they have taken some steps to enable further improvement. However, they have been slow to recognise and respond to weaknesses in quality assurance and the impact of a lack of capacity at senior leadership level. This has meant that services considered within the scope of this visit have not improved at the same pace as was observed at previous inspections and visits," the report concluded.
Ofsted recommends that Knowsley improves the quality of child in need and child protection plans to ensure that they help professionals to measure progress for children.
Knowsley should improve the work done to assess and approve the suitability of private fostering arrangements and identify when children need alternative permanence planning.
Finally, the consistency and quality of audits needs work so that they provide learning that can support improvement in social work practice.
Focused visit to Knowsley council children’s services

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