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Quality of contacts work at Walsall improves

The quality of work in responding effectively to contacts in Walsall has improved since the last inspection in 2017, which is positive for children and families who receive a timely response to initial identified needs and concerns.

The local authority response to most children at risk of harm or in need of help is appropriate, although, for some children, consideration of early help support could be given sooner by referring agencies, said the focused visit which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for contacts and referrals in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), thresholds for children in need and child protection, and arrangements for children and families stepping down to early help and to the Initial Response Service (IRS) for social work assessment.

"Management oversight, quality assurance and performance information arrangements have been strengthened, with managers ensuring that work is appropriately prioritised and progressed. Leaders have a good understanding of their strengths and areas for improvement, with aspirational plans in place to effect positive change. The local authority is aware of the need to strengthen its arrangements with the police in response to children who go missing," said the report.

Inspectors highlighted:

- The local authority’s MASH has improved since the last inspection. Working arrangements are well embedded and well organised, and there are effective governance and processes in place.

- Management oversight is routinely evident in case records, and case direction is clearly recorded on contact forms.

- Children and families in Walsall are able to benefit from a broad early help offer from across the wider partnership to respond to their identified needs. Skilled and experienced family support workers offer a range of interventions.

- Contacts about children at risk due to domestic abuse are all initially screened by police and women’s aid partners promptly in the MASH. However, the threshold for police to refer into the MASH is too low, which diverts screening staff from their priority work. When appropriate, social care, women’s aid and police colleagues share information quickly and effectively, ensuring a prompt response to identified needs.

- Children and families benefit from the strong relationship between the out-of hours emergency duty team (EDT) and the MASH.

- Too many children in Walsall who have been missing from home or care do not receive a return home interview (RHI).

- Clear and effective procedures, process maps and guidance documentation supports staff in the identification of and initial response to children at risk of sexual or criminal exploitation and gang affiliation in Walsall.

- Children at risk of significant harm are appropriately identified in the MASH, and timely strategy discussions are held, well attended by partner agencies.

- Assistant team managers (ATMs) in the IRS service provide social workers with high-quality directions when children are allocated to them.

- Managers employ an effective range of methods to scrutinise and review the quality of work in the MASH, and make good use of available performance information to prioritise and monitor the timely progression of work.

Ofsted recommends that Walsall improves the timeliness of early help assessments and interventions. The consistency, timeliness and quality of return home interviews needs addressing and the timely availability of health information in the MASH should be provided.
Focused visit to Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council children’s services

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