Ofsted’s annual social care report shows leadership is key to improving the standard of care in an authority
A quarter of children’s services departments are rated inadequate, Ofsted’s annual social care report has found.
While 21 children’s services are ‘inadequate’, a further 43 require improvement, the report reveals.
“In poor performing authorities weaknesses in leadership and management oversight, along with high caseloads, often mean children do not receive the right support at the right time,” said the report.
Most of the authorities were inadequate for help and protection, the part of the system that assesses what the risks to children are and takes the action that is necessary, which remains “one of the greatest challenges and one of the hardest things to get right”.
Ofsted’s third annual social care report reveals that once children are in the care system, they are often well cared for: it is children who have not entered the system because their needs have not been recognised, or whose support has been too superficial and ineffective, who need our attention.
Yet the report warns that an ‘inadequate’ judgement is not related to size, levels of deprivation, or funding - the quality of leadership in an area is the single most important factor in the standard of help, care and protection given to children.
“In high-performing areas, inspectors saw strong leadership, both at a political level and throughout the organisation. Leaders create the systems and culture that enable high quality social work to flourish, and understand the skills and qualities the workforce need to do their jobs well. In these places, children do not wait for help and support, and social workers are given time to work with families,” said Ofsted.
The report warns that caseloads are too high for many social workers and inspections revealed that caseloads were identified as too high in 14 authorities. The variation between local authorities in terms of the numbers of children in need per social worker is very wide, ranging from 7 in some areas, to as high as 34 in others.
Social workers need enough time to devote to each child in their caseload, Ofsted warns adding that it is not surprising that where local authorities are providing a high standard of care and support, social workers have manageable workloads.
The report highlights that there are outstanding individuals in every local authority area who are doing excellent work. However, it warns that too many individual social workers are pressing on in conditions that are unacceptable.
“Social workers need time to spend with the children and families on their case list. They need a place of work that makes it possible for them to exercise their profession at the highest level. They need managers who trust and challenge them in equal measure,” said the report.
Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care, Eleanor Schooling, said: “When local authorities have a strong practice methodology and reasonable caseloads, social workers are able to work effectively with families and improve lives.
“We know that weaknesses can be overcome through grit, determination, and good leaders who make the work easier to do well.
“Ambitious ideas based on sound research can be the foundation for making rapid improvements to local authority children’s services,” she concluded.