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Recruitment challenges hinder progress at Blackpool

Blackpool has been working with a range of partners to begin the process of transformational change within children's services, Ofsted has said.
Since the inspection one year ago, Blackpool has worked closely with three partners in practice (PIP) authorities and the DfE commissioner to make improvements at the front door and deliver some initial training on a new model of practice, with a further programme to be rolled out across the workforce early in 2020.
However, at the time of this monitoring visit, the impact of this support had not led to sufficient change in the quality of social work practice.
"Significant financial investment in the last 12 months has led to a restructure of children’s services and increased capacity in social work teams. The workforce development offer has been reviewed and it is appropriately focused on seeking to attract permanent staff in order to reduce the significant reliance on agency social workers," said the report.
"Despite these efforts, recruitment continues to be a significant challenge. Some key posts have been hard to fill, and the service is still made up of a largely inexperienced workforce, with high caseloads due to the volume of work coming through the front door. Although frontline management capacity has increased in the AST and SSF teams since the inspection, management oversight is inconsistent, and weak in some areas. It is, therefore, not driving improvement at the rate or quality that is needed. This is a concern given the level of inexperience within the workforce at this time," the report added.
Inspectors highlighted:
- Thresholds at the front door continue to be applied well in most cases.
- Strategy discussions are usually well attended by partner agencies, and there is evidence of information-sharing to support future action.
- There is timely allocation of work from the MASH to social workers in AST teams, with clear direction regarding the areas to be considered within the child and family assessment (CAFA).
- Direct work is completed with children who are seen regularly, and the observations of non-verbal children are well recorded. The voice of the child is clearly sought and reported verbatim in the case record.
- Core groups and reviews, where information is appropriately shared, are held regularly and most are attended by relevant partner agencies.
- Since the inspection, a new public law outline (PLO) tracker has been introduced and it is supporting more effective management oversight of cases than at the time of the inspection.
- The recently introduced weekly permanence and care planning panels, chaired by the assistant director, provide detailed consideration of plans for children in pre-proceedings.
- Social workers report that supervision takes place regularly and is very supportive.
- ASYE support was valued by new social workers, with peer group supervisions held regularly by new ASYE coordinators. Most social workers reported positively on the improvement journey, embraced recent changes and were enthusiastic about a new strengths-based model of practice to be implemented.
- Auditing work continues to identify appropriate practice issues, including where drift and delay have occurred.
However, while the neglect strategy has been re-launched, it is still to be fully embedded. It is concerning that the response and recognition of neglect for some cases continue to be too slow, as was the case at the time of the inspection, the report said.
Consent is still not always sought by all partners, particularly the police, prior to contacting the MASH, and the arrangements to secure consent at a later stage in the referral process lead to some duplication of effort.
The mid-review checkpoint within the CAFA is not always completed within the 10-day timescale set at the start of the assessment process. This means that social workers are not always benefiting from management oversight at key points in their work with families, in accordance with the local authority’s own practice standards.
The quality of CAFAs is variable. As noted at the last monitoring visit, most provide detailed information about historical concerns, and this has been maintained, but they continue to lack robust analysis.
The local authority has recognised that the quality of assessments is an area for improvement in its audit findings and self-evaluation. It is seeking to address this by rolling out a programme of training on a new strengths-based model of practice early in 2020.
Plans for children lack specificity regarding clear timescales for actions to be completed, or contingencies if progress is not sustained. Plans are often prefaced by a long list of risk indicators, but the plan itself is often quite brief and lacks detail regarding key objectives for supporting the child and family. This means that the quality of social work intervention is not always purposeful and there is still evidence of drift and delay for children, as there was at the time of the inspection a year ago.
Supervision record lacks reflection and is sometimes too descriptive. Caseloads are still too high in some teams, including for some ASYE social workers. This can feel overwhelming for them and leads to delays in case recording, the report added.
"Staff were positive about working in Blackpool, but the pace of change has been hindered by a combination of recruitment challenges, an inexperienced workforce and insufficient management oversight in frontline teams. There has been instability in some teams due to significant churn in agency social workers covering vacant posts and leaving after a short time, the internal promotion of staff to newly created management posts and a high level of less experienced staff holding complex cases," the report concluded.
Monitoring visit of Blackpool children’s services

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