Social work capacity and allocation of caseloads needs addressing at Liverpool children’s services, Ofsted has warned.
Rating the authority as ‘requiring improvement to be good,’ Ofsted said that since the joint targeted inspection in 2016, and the subsequent four monitoring visits, senior leaders have made purposeful and targeted progress in strengthening arrangements in the multi-agency safeguarding hub and early help services.
However, insufficient progress has been made in other aspects of the service, and weaknesses found during this inspection mirror many of those identified in the single inspection framework SIF inspection carried out by Ofsted in 2014.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement to be good and inspectors highlighted:
- Children and families who need additional support benefit from access to a comprehensive range of early help services and well-coordinated packages of intervention.
- When needs or risks increase, cases are stepped up appropriately from early help to children’s social care.
- Screening of domestic abuse notifications by the police within the MASH has also improved since the last inspection.
- The majority of strategy meetings are timely, and information sharing from relevant partners is considered carefully which leads to appropriate decisions and actions to protect children.
- The quality of help and protection offered to children by the disabled children’s team is a strength.
However, the quality of social work assessments has not improved since the JTAI. Assessments are not routinely updated when children’s circumstances change. Children’s lived experiences, including their needs, family dynamics, culture and identity, are not consistently at the centre of assessments.
Management oversight of front-line practice is not consistently effective and is often too focused on compliance.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers requires improvement to be good. Inspectors found:
- The immediacy of the intensive family support, including edge of care support, provided to families by the multi-agency instant response team is impressive.
- The vast majority of children in care live in stable placements that meet their needs effectively and improve their outcomes.
- For most children whose plan is adoption, permanence is achieved in a timely manner.
- Investment in the education of children in care is a priority for leaders.
- Care leavers benefit from experienced and proactive personal advisers, who tenaciously work to keep and maintain relationships with them, resulting in improved outcomes for care leavers.
However, the quality of assessments and care plans is not good enough, said the report. Family group conferences are increasingly being used to explore family-based solutions, including alternative care arrangements for children, but not all children have benefited from this service.
The fostering team devotes most of its time to court-directed assessments of connected carers. Consequently, the time available to commit to the recruitment and assessment of mainstream foster carers is limited and leads to a reduction of in-house placement choice for children. The local authority’s approach to permanence planning is not sufficiently rigorous.
The quality of the pathway plans which the 18+ service inherits from the permanence teams is not good enough.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families requires improvement to be good. Ofsted found that Following the JTAI, local councillors increased their support for improving children’s services. Ofsted’s monitoring visits following the JTAI found that the local authority had made some improvements. However, the pace of improvement was insufficient.
Since the appointment of the new DCS and recent appointment of the assistant director, there has been a notable increase in the rate of progress. The new senior management team has a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of frontline practice and understands the challenges.
The new DCs has made a significant impact in a short space of time. A recruitment, retention and progression framework has been recently developed which has led to a much sharper focus on workforce recruitment and retention.
However, Ofsted said: “While there are signs that the workforce is starting to stabilise, caseloads are still too high in most teams. The quality of practice is still far too variable. The quality of frontline management oversight is not consistently strong, well-recorded or challenging. The quality of critical challenge provided by IROs is not consistently effective.”
“Children experience too many changes of social worker and some delay due to the number of transfer points across children’s social care. Leaders have been diligent in establishing effective systems and processes, and their impact on improving social work practice is at the earliest stages,” the report added.
Areas for improvement include:
- Social work capacity and allocation of caseloads.
- The quality, consistency and child-centeredness of assessments and plans.
- Permanence planning for all children in care.
- Timeliness of transition planning for children in care.
- Comprehensive needs assessment and commissioning strategy for sufficiency of placements, including foster care.
- Quality and consistency of oversight and challenge by first line managers, child protection conference chairs and independent reviewing officers.
Liverpool’s councillor Barry Kushner, Cabinet member for children’s services, said: “I welcome this report, which is a very accurate assessment of where we are as a local authority, and for me the key finding is that children in the city are safe.
“Although we’re improving, we know we’ve still got a way to go, but what’s crucial is we know how we are going to get there and have plans in place to address every single area identified by Ofsted for further development. We are prioritising reducing caseloads by recruiting 16 extra staff.
“Every day, our social work teams are going the extra mile to keep Liverpool’s most vulnerable children safe and, for the most part, they are getting it right. Ofsted recognised this too.
“Children’s services across the country are under pressure as never before due to the rising number of children in care and the impact of austerity which has hit our budget and is causing more families to tip into crisis. When set against in this challenging context, I am pleased that we are making progress and am confident we will deliver further improvements,” he concluded.