Senior leaders have failed to address the significant concerns identified during the re-inspection of Torbay children’s services in June 2018, Ofsted has said.
Capacity issues in the safeguarding assessment teams (SATS) and safeguarding and family support service (SAFS) are considerable, with too few social workers to carry out the work needed, the first monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate, for the second time, for overall effectiveness in June 2018 found.
"This results in delays in seeing children and an inability to undertake good-quality assessments, make effective plans and take necessary and timely action. Inspectors and senior leaders remain concerned that risks to children are not being managed consistently," said the report.
Inspectors evaluated the quality of help and protection provided to vulnerable children and their families in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) and in the safeguarding assessment teams (SATs). They also looked at work carried out by the early help, family intervention team (FIT).
The report found that an improvement plan, developed with partner agencies and agreed by the improvement board, is being implemented, focused on the widespread and serious issues identified by previous inspections. However, the plan overly concentrates on process and compliance and is not based on a systematic evaluation of the current service weaknesses, or on a full understanding of the present experiences of children.
Improved and more reliable performance information and a revised quality assurance system are positive developments and are welcomed by team managers, but it is too soon to see the impact of these changes on children’s experiences.
- Deficits in the quality of basic social work practice, linked to a lack of capacity in the SAT service, are significant.
- Caseloads are very high, with too many social workers being responsible for over 30 children.
- Too many children wait too long to receive the help they require.
- Not all children are visited within the required statutory timescale, and while this may be justifiable for a small number of children, for most it is not.
- The number of children visited within five days of a referral is improving, but is not at an acceptable level to ensure that all children are safeguarded.
- The frequency of visits to children subject to child protection plans within 10 working days has not improved since the inspection, except for a small number of disabled children.
- Assessment timeliness is beginning to improve from a low base, but too many do not reflect the level of risk and need in a family.
"A briefing provided to inspectors described a ‘chaotic way of working’, often with visits completed by different workers but not recorded or prioritised appropriately. This is exacerbated by the constant staff churn at social work and team manager level. This is extremely concerning. It means that it is not possible to track whether some children deemed to be at risk of significant harm are safe. The quality of child protection and children in need plans are too variable and do not address individual children’s needs," the report said.
However, decisions in the MASH continue to be made in a timely way, within 24 hours, despite the increase in contacts and referrals from professionals. Early help interventions continue to be well coordinated by the FIT.
Stronger links with the MASH and the SAT teams and better management oversight of the work are helping to ensure that children receive the right level of targeted support.
Child protection medicals are now consistently considered and carried out when necessary by trained paediatricians, which is a vast improvement since the previous inspection.
The main challenge for Torbay is recruitment and retention of staff Torbay, as for other local authorities in the south west. Despite this, Torbay has successfully recruited to senior and middle manager posts. However, attracting experienced permanent social workers and frontline mangers is more difficult. The service currently relies on high numbers of agency staff, leading to some children experiencing numerous changes in social worker. Nevertheless, inspectors met dedicated, skilled staff, both permanent and agency, who are committed to improving the quality of services for children. They require senior leaders to create an environment in which this can happen consistently.
"Senior leaders and elected members in Torbay are very committed to improving standards across the entire service. Following inspectors’ findings, they fully accept that the pace of change, which is currently too slow, must accelerate," the report concluded.