The long-standing difficulties of recruitment and retention of sufficient staff and managers at Cumbria children’s services have been “vigorously addressed”, an inspection has found.
A monitoring visit to the authority in August found that an improved offer for new and existing staff, combined with upskilling staff and managers, has led to a gradual reduction in the reliance on agency staff at the authority.
“Although children and families continue to experience changes in social workers, an improved handover between workers, combined with better case recording, is mitigating the negative impact of this to a significant extent. The improved workforce stability sets a strong baseline for practice, going forward,” said a letter from Ofsted to the director of children’s services.
The visit was the 14th monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in March 2015. It found the local authority is making steady progress in improving services for children and young people in the west of the county.
It added that more effective oversight by IROs since the last monitoring visit is leading to more timely escalation to care proceedings and children’s plans are now being more regularly reviewed to maintain progress.
The quality of recording in case files is improving, but is still not consistently good enough. Not all plans are up to date, and poorer quality chronologies and minutes from core groups continue to hamper progress for some children.
The report highlighted;
- Effective and tenacious engagement by social workers and personal advisers with families remains a strength for the local authority.
- Effective liaison with other agencies was seen in the vast majority of cases.
- The local authority makes good use of legal proceedings, including the Public Law Outline, to progress plans swiftly.
- Clearer management oversight and use of the Gateway panel is now ensuring progress, and improvements are seen in children’s circumstances. This robust activity ensures that children do not experience drift and delay.
- The local authority has appropriately focused on improving the quality of supervision for social workers.
The inspection warned that some cases were seen where the application of specific risk assessment tools was warranted, yet had not been used. This has been raised in previous monitoring visits.
Workers understand the importance of recording their work with families however, some shortfalls were seen. Records of home visits are still variable in quality, the inspectors warned.
“Historical drift and delay are now being challenged, and child-centred practice is more visible. Despite known challenges to recruitment, particularly in this part of the county, the local authority’s drive to stabilise the workforce is showing signs of success, and more permanent staff are now in post. This is contributing to more effective planning and improving outcomes for children,” it concluded.