Sandwell Children’s Trust is continuing to make progress in improving its ‘front door’ response to children and families, Ofsted has said.
In the third monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in January 2018, Ofsted said Sandwell has a robust performance framework which can provide it with accurate information about the quality of practice and the improvements to practice and outcomes for children still required.
"Progress has been made in ensuring that the first response to families and children in need is timely and, in most cases, recognises risk and the scale of intervention required. However, practice is still not consistent," said the report.
It outlined that evidence of management oversight has improved since the inception of the trust, but it remains of inconsistent quality, and there is a continuing need for some managers to ensure that the rationale for decision-making is adequately recorded.
The workforce is increasingly stable and there have been further reductions in the use of agency staff, with some electing to work permanently for Sandwell.
The inspection focused on the progress made in the front door response to concerns from the public and other agencies. Inspectors highlighted:
- The trust has ensured that the front door response to concerns about families and children is timely and processes are in place to ensure that decisions on further action are made quickly.
- Understanding of thresholds by partners is improving and most contacts and referrals are appropriate.
- Where children may be at risk, or have been abused, strategy meetings to agree a plan of intervention are held in a timely manner, with almost all held on the same day as referral.
- Child protection enquiries (S47) are timely and most recommendations are appropriately made.
- In the majority of cases, management sign-off and oversight of work is evident.
However, there is inconsistency in the operation of thresholds for services. In some cases, early help teams are holding inappropriate work which is too complex and where the degree of risk has not been recognised. This is compounded by there being separate front door arrangements for early help and social care, which creates a vulnerability, particularly where early help is accepting inappropriate work and where cases should have the benefit of a MASH assessment. In addition, some step-up cases have not been accepted by managers in the MASH service when they should have been.
MASH systems and processes are not always robust enough to ensure timely step up and step down to early help.
An audit framework is in place and moderation of audit activity in many cases strengthens the quality of the overview. However, not all audits were sufficiently robust either in their findings or in relation to the robustness of subsequent action plans.
"The trust has continued to make improvements since the last inspection. Practice, however, remains inconsistent, although staff are responding to a clear vision for improvement and the trust is recognising where it needs to improve its services to children and families," the report concluded.