Practice remains too variable in permanence arrangements for children at Wandsworth Council, according to a monitoring visit by inspectors.
The fifth monitoring visit since the authority was graded inadequate for overall effectiveness in December 2015, stated that while some strengths were noted, a lack of timeliness in providing permanent alternative homes were found.
“Senior leaders accept that more work is required by all teams to make sure that permanence planning and family finding for children are carried out at the earliest opportunity,” said the report following the visit.
The visit focused on the quality of permanence arrangements for children who are unable to live with their birth families.
Senior leaders have recognised that family-finding activity is not initiated soon enough and they are taking decisive action to address the delays in securing permanent alternative homes for children in care.
There is a high volume of assessments of connected persons, and too many are requested at a late stage in care proceedings.
An externally commissioned review in May 2017 found that young children waited too long to be placed. For example, a fifth of infants (aged 0–3 months when they became looked after) waited an average of 28 months before being placed with their adoptive families. Four adoptive households, which had been approved in 2014–15, were still waiting to be matched with a child at the time of the review.
“These are considerable delays for adopters, leading to missed opportunities to pursue adoption quickly for some children,” said the report.
The report highlights managers at all levels are hindered by inconsistent data in their understanding of the quality of practice in relation to permanence for children. A permanency tracker has been developed to enable managers to track the progress of cases through the PLO process, from legal planning meeting to final hearing. This work is recent and needs to be progressed urgently, inspectors warn.
However, a recently established monthly forum has resulted in more robust management oversight at each stage of the adoption process. Any drift in progressing plans is now being appropriately escalated to the assistant director of children’s services.
The adoption and permanence panel is well established and quorate, and demonstrates appropriate challenge and exploration of the strengths and vulnerabilities of applicants.
The quality of prospective adopter reports (PARs) sampled by inspectors is good, demonstrating considered analysis of the strengths and vulnerabilities of prospective adopters. The PARs are thorough and suitably probing.
The quality of social work practice with children in care is continuing to improve, said the report.
Two areas for development and improvement identified during the last monitoring visit were the timeliness and quality of IRO minutes and records. In cases sampled on this visit, inspectors saw evidence of improvements.
“In summary, the progress that inspectors have seen in other areas on previous monitoring visits is not yet fully reflected in achieving permanence soon enough for some vulnerable children. Senior leaders and all staff who met with inspectors are working diligently to address these deficits. They continue to convey considerable ambition, confidence and determination to consistently improve the quality of help, care and protection that they provide to children looked after,” the report concludes.