Some progress made at Sandwell says Ofsted

Sandwell Children’s Trust is making some progress in improving services for children involved in the Public Law Outline and pre-proceedings work, but overall some deficits in services remain, Ofsted has said.

Senior managers in the Trust and the local authority are acutely aware of the scale of change still required to improve services for children and families in Sandwell.

"Progress against the improvement plan has been maintained and the newly appointed Director of Children’s Services has started the much-needed work to develop partnership working in the borough," said the report.

The visit, which was the second monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in January 2018, reviewed progress regarding thresholds into care.

Senior managers and leaders continue to develop their understanding of frontline practice, through performance management, quality assurance and their direct involvement in services. The audit process has been refreshed and provides the Trust with a good understanding of the strengths and deficits of services.

Recent audit findings regarding entry to care and the PLO process have resulted in swift action to address concerns. Concise, clearly written guides and process maps have been produced to assist social workers’ understanding of legal processes.

The ‘12 reasons to work in Sandwell Children’s Trust’ has been developed since the last monitoring visit to attract and retain staff. Since the last inspection, the combined percentage of agency and newly qualified workers has reduced from 60% to 41%, which means that there are now more permanent and experienced staff to manage complex cases.

The report highlighted:

- Correct decisions are made when children become looked after.

- Pre-proceedings are well used and there is evidence of regular timetabled meetings.

- Since the last inspection, pre-proceedings timescales have improved.

- Inspectors saw some examples of effective social work with parents where information in letters was clear and explained thoroughly.

- The Director’s Resources and Decision-Making panel provides case scrutiny and challenge and clear recommendations regarding further action.

However drift and delay identified in the last inspection remains. For some children, there are delays in decision-making, legal planning meetings, instigating proceedings, completion of assessments and consideration of early permanence - all of which were highlighted in the last inspection.

Missed opportunities to intervene, particularly in chronic neglect cases, mean that some children still do not enter care soon enough.

The quality of assessments is variable. While some assessments contain detailed recording and analysis which identify and address concerns, weaker assessments often lack thorough exploration and analysis of significant events.

Furthermore, case records are of variable quality. Supervision sessions are not always regular and most lack reflection on social work practice.

"The Trust has demonstrated that it has made some improvements since the last inspection. As more areas of practice are scrutinised, senior leaders and managers are putting in measures to improve the services offered. Many of the inspection findings identified at the last inspection remain and practice remains variable, but, crucially, the foundations are in place for practice to improve," the report concluded.

Sandwell monitoring visit

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