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Quality of services "too variable" in Somerset

The quality of service that children receive in Somerset is too variable across the county, Ofsted has warned.

In the last inspection in November 2017, Somerset was judged to be requires improvement to be good. Since then, the number of permanent team managers and social workers has increased, and caseloads have been reduced to manageable levels.

"There are still areas of practice that need to be of a better standard, but the senior leadership team has an accurate understanding of the quality of practice in this area of the service," said the report.

While the local authority has taken a range of actions to address practice deficits in these areas, including increased management oversight and capacity, it recognises that there is further work to be done to ensure that all children in Somerset receive an effective service, it added.

The focused visit looked at the local authority’s arrangements at the first point of contact for children who need help and protection in accordance with the Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services framework (ILACS).

The report highlighted:

- Somerset Direct, the local authority’s call centre, offers a quick and efficient response to children and families when they are first in need of help or protection.

- Managers in the first response team and Early Help Hub have a clear oversight of referrals and a good understanding of thresholds, and they prioritise the children that need most immediate help and protection.

- Teams of workers with a range of skills, including youth work and counselling, are used to give families a quick and meaningful response in times of crisis.

- Strategy discussions are convened at the right time for children in almost all cases.

- Social workers and early help practitioners feel well supported and receive supervision that they value.

- The range of quality assurance tools used by senior leaders is comprehensive and includes independent challenge from other local authorities.

However, the quality of assessments is variable, and some do not clearly analyse what life is like for children living in families where there is neglect or violence. When children are living in families where there is domestic abuse, there is not sufficient engagement by workers with the adults who have committed offences. Often, this is when a male perpetrator is not living with the family due to arrest. Consent is not always gained from the offender and social workers focus too much on the protective capacity of the partner who remains with the children. This results in families requiring further intervention if perpetrators return to the household.

Ofsted recommends in order to improve practice in this area, Somerset should focus on improving the extent to which the child’s experience of family life informs decision-making and communication with families about how long assessments are going to take and what social workers hope to achieve.

Furthermore they should prioritise consistency in the quality of practice with children across the local authority and engagement with perpetrators in families where there is domestic abuse.

Focused visit to Somerset local authority children’s services

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