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Slow progress made at Gloucestershire

Gloucestershire children's services is making slow progress in improving services for its children and young people, Ofsted has said.

The senior leadership team has a clear vision and coherent improvement plan to develop and deliver high-quality services to children and families in Gloucestershire, which it is successfully implementing.

"While there are early indicators of improvements in some areas of practice, there is considerable variability across teams. Overall, key areas that make a difference to children’s lives, such as being seen quickly, being kept safe and developing trusting relationships with social workers, are not yet good enough," said the Ofsted report.

Despite a number of practice improvements in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), and although performance is improving, delays in decision-making remain for too many children where there are immediate safeguarding concerns.

In recent months, there has been an increase in the number of permanent members of staff within the local authority and a modest reduction in the number of vacant posts. Caseloads are manageable for the vast majority of social workers, who are positive about working for the local authority and the support they receive to improve children’s circumstances.

The inspection was the sixth monitoring visit to Gloucestershire children’s services since the local authority was judged inadequate in March 2017.

Ofsted highlighted:

- Since the last monitoring visit, the local authority has maintained or improved a number of key performance measures. The vast majority of assessments are completed within the maximum national timescales of 45 working days, and the number of children experiencing delays in allocation to a social worker remain low.

- Performance in the MASH has improved: it is suitably staffed by experienced social workers and professionals and this is contributing to improvements in timely information-sharing and planning.

- Within the MASH, thresholds are consistently applied, resulting in children receiving appropriate responses to their needs, and managers provide regular oversight and direction to social workers.

- The vast majority of strategy discussions to consider risk to children and plan protective action now take place within the local authority timescale of five working days.

- The majority of assessments are completed within national maximum timescales and are more consistent in their consideration of risk and protective factors and historical information, as well as detailed analysis.

- Morale within teams is good. Social workers are positive about the support they receive from line managers and the visibility and responsiveness of senior leaders.

- Casework audits have improved in quality, and now accurately identify strengths and weaknesses in practice.

- The range of performance management information and reports available to the senior leadership team is comprehensive and provides a clear and accurate picture of performance across the service.

However, despite a number of practice improvements in the multi-agency safeguarding hub, and although performance is improving, delays in decision-making remain for too many children where there are immediate safeguarding concerns. There continue to be delays in seeing children when they are first referred to the local authority, and, as a result, too many children remain in situations of unassessed risk for too long.

Despite the efforts of the authority to recruit and retain a permance workforce, due to the high turnover in staff, over 70% of children have experienced a change of social worker in the last six months.

Where risks to children are more acute, and therefore more urgent assessment is required, there continue to be delays in decision-making regarding the next course of action.

While most social workers spoken to are able to talk about the circumstances of the children with whom they work, this knowledge does not consistently translate into effective planning.

Plans are too variable in their quality, and actions do not consistently inform effective care planning and decision-making. The rationale for decision-making and interventions is not always consistently clear.

Although the vast majority of children in need have a plan, review meetings are not happening consistently, leading to delays in addressing identified needs and improving children’s circumstances. The timeliness of initial child protection conferences has deteriorated since the last monitoring visit.

Management oversight is not yet sufficiently rigorous or challenging to ensure that children’s circumstances are improving within reasonable timescales.

"Senior leaders have good oversight and understanding of practice strengths and deficits and effectively utilise performance information to inform service planning and developments. Implementation of the local authority improvement plan demonstrates recent impact on establishing a permanent, suitably qualified workforce and improved performance in a number of quantitative, as well as qualitative, performance measures," the report concluded.

Monitoring visit of Gloucestershire children’s services

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