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Quality of social work practice at Dudley deteriorates

Senior leaders at Dudley acknowledge that the quality of social work practice has deteriorated since the last inspection, said Ofsted.
The new chief executive brought in an interim director of children services, who subsequently established and strengthened the senior leadership team within the service. The new leadership team is very new, and actions taken and associated plans have not yet had an impact on services, the focused visit found.
"As a result, there are significant vulnerabilities within the service, which mean that too many children do not have their needs assessed in a timely and effective way. Consequently, some children do not receive the right service to meet their needs when they need it, and they remain vulnerable for too long. Leaders accepted all of the feedback provided by inspectors during the course of this visit," said the report.
Ofsted found:
- The emergency duty team provides an effective response to out of hours referrals. When there are child protection concerns, a strategy discussion is held with the police, to agree next steps and ensure that children are immediately safeguarded. Information is passed through to the daytime team for action.
- The new leadership team is acting to ensure emergency accommodation provision is strengthened to meet the needs of these vulnerable children in crisis.
- Early help services appropriately refer families for a social work assessment when their needs escalate, or concerns emerge that require a statutory assessment.
- Threshold decision-making to step children and families down to early help following completion of an assessment are timely and appropriate.
- Strategy meetings are held appropriately in most cases when there are concerns about significant harm. Most meetings include key agencies. They result in clear multi-agency information-sharing and actions.
- It is positive that team managers meet with social workers to allocate work and agree actions. Management oversight of frontline practice is regular, but it does not always evidence the reflective supervision staff say that they receive.
- Leaders know the service well. Leaders accepted all feedback provided by inspectors during the course of the visit, including concerns about individual cases.
- Performance management arrangements have been strengthened. Audits are now being completed by managers and moderated by the centre for professional practice.
- Recruitment and retention of social workers is starting to improve, and there are early signs that the workforce is beginning to stabilise. Social workers are overwhelmingly positive about the changes being implemented by visible senior managers.
However, assessments provide insufficient detail about the type of focused help that key agencies will provide to best assist children and families.
Assessments are not always completed in a timely way, and children are not seen soon enough. Assessments lack depth and this means that children’s needs and their lived experience within the family are not effectively explored.
Chronologies are not up to date and do not fully consider key events and their impact on children. Some important events in children’s lives are missing from chronologies. This means that children’s histories and the impact of their experiences are not always fully understood.
On completion of section 47 assessments, thresholds to proceed to initial child protection conference are not sufficiently coherent or consistent. This is due to variable thresholds between team managers and between social workers, where risks are sometimes minimised. There is too great a focus on the self-reporting of parents and a desire to work at a lower level if they consent to this.
Child in need plans are not robust. They do not reflect multi-agency information sharing. Expectations of parents lack clarity about how they need to improve their parenting to meet their children’s needs.
Managers do not regularly display professional curiosity when there are indications that there may be disguised compliance or underlying concerns. Management actions are too formulaic and process driven, and they do not focus adequately on the individual child’s needs and experience, or on the quality of practice.
Participation and direct work with children are evident in the work of the assessment team, but is often based on only one visit. For some children, this is not enough for them to open up and share their lived experience.
Recording does not always evidence the work being undertaken, the report adds. The impact and risks posed by current and historical exposure to domestic abuse is not well recognised. Too much weight is given to self-reporting by the adults in the family, meaning that concerns are not effectively addressed soon enough.
There is little consideration of long-term neglect in assessments, and neglect is not effectively identified. Tools to assist with the evaluation and impact of neglect are not embedded, and social workers have only recently started to be trained on their use.
Children with disabilities do not have regular re-assessments when they are children in need. Assessments are instigated only at parental request. Reviews of direct payments are not timely. Some children have not received an assessment for several years. This means that there may be children who have unassessed and unmet needs which add to their vulnerability.
When children are vulnerable to radicalisation, ‘Prevent’ processes are not always followed. Recording quality is inconsistent, and referrals are not routinely sent to the multi-agency information sharing hub (MASH) or placed on children’s files.
Most young people who have presented as homeless recently have not been made aware of their right to become looked after, or offered sufficient advice or support.
"The corporate structure has been reconfigured to enable stronger oversight of children’s services by the chief executive, who the director of children’s services now directly reports to. The new children’s services senior management team has brought energy and direction and is developing a clear vision for the service. It has focused on understanding and rectifying the weaknesses in the service, and has identified immediate and medium-term priorities, but team members understand that there is much more to be done," the report concludes.
The report, which evaluated the local authority’s arrangements for assessments, decision-making and next steps, following assessments of children in need and children for whom there are safeguarding concerns, recommends that Dudley addresses the timeliness and quality of assessments, including assessments of disabled children and the voice of children should be apparent in assessments.
The focus and detail of plans needs improvement and the help offered to children and families should ensure that they receive the right help at the right time.
Multi-agency engagement in strategy discussions in open cases needs to improve and thresholds for holding an initial child protection conference needs addressing.
Managers’ oversight of frontline practice needs improvement and there needs to be better recognition of the impact of domestic abuse on children.
The identification and understanding of long-term neglect needs addressing and Dudley should improve the response to children vulnerable to radicalisation.
The approach to 16- and 17-year-old young people who present as homeless also needs work.
Focused visit to Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council children’s services

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