Shropshire has made progress in improving services for children who need permanent arrangements for their care, Ofsted has found.
A focused visit, which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for achieving permanence, found that for almost all children who come into care, swift decisions are made about their permanent care plans.
The report found the local authority is successful in ensuring that most children who cannot live with their parents are placed quickly in alternative living arrangements, including placements with relatives, adoption, long-term fostering and, for a few, specialist residential living.
"Placement stability has improved, with fewer children experiencing multiple moves. Adoption is carefully considered for all children who cannot return home. Brothers and sisters are placed together whenever possible and adoption disruption is rare.
Special guardianship orders (SGO) are considered for children living in long-term fostering arrangements. Plans for children in care who are living with their parents under placement with parents (PWP) regulations are not sufficiently clear about what parents need to do to achieve good enough standards of parenting.," said the report.
- Progress and improvements have been made since the last inspection.
- Children are placed in permanent placements quickly, with very few experiencing multiple moves before finding a good-quality permanent home.
- Almost all children are considered for adoption where this is appropriate, and the local authority is successful in placing groups of brothers and sisters, older children and those who have significant health needs.
- The local authority undertakes parallel planning for children’s futures.
- The local authority is successful in achieving permanence and legal stability by seeking special guardianship orders for children already living in established long-term foster care or with their connected carers.
- Children with disabilities who are in care have their permanence plans considered on a timely basis. At the age of 16, they are allocated a worker from adult services to reinforce long-term planning for their care arrangements after they become 19.
- Children’s assessments of need are updated regularly. Many of these are detailed and provide a clear analysis of children’s current needs and, where necessary, a review of the current care plan.
- Leaders and managers undertake regular monitoring activity through case and thematic audits, which has included a focus on permanence planning and practice.
However, plans for children in care who are placed with parents are too generic. The expectations of parents and what they need to do to improve or maintain good parenting are insufficiently clear or detailed.
While children looked after reviews are held within statutory timescales, many lack clear timescales for taking actions. Review minutes often refer to other documents as sources containing more details about issues and actions, the report found.
Social workers’ case supervision is inconsistent in quality. The best examples detail reflective discussion and include clear actions and timescales for completion. Some poorer examples, however, are very brief and contain little direction or reflection. In case management teams, there are gaps in supervision, in some cases for several months.
Senior managers have implemented a number of initiatives to improve the overall scrutiny of permanence planning and the effectiveness of practice. This includes a permanency tracker, but its use is limited as a tool for analysis, as there is insufficient data in place to allow this. On this basis, it is not yet useful as a strategic tool that enables the authority to identify any weaknesses in practice or in its processes.
In order to improve social work practice in this area, Shropshire needs to improve the functioning of the permanency tracker to ensure that it enables the local authority to analyse practice and progress towards permanence.
There needs to be a greater understanding among staff of the purpose of the permanency forum and a review of its scope to ensure that PWP arrangements are considered in the forum on a regular basis.
Finally Shropshire should ensure that recorded outcomes of reviews of children looked after arrangements have actions that are bounded by timescales for completion, and all expectations of parents are made clear in recommendations, the report concluded.
Focused visit to Shropshire local authority children’s services