Devon children's services has succeeded in stabilising the workforce at all levels and in bringing down social work caseloads to a manageable level, Ofsted has said.
Senior leaders, including elected members, have appropriately focused their time and energy on creating an environment in which children can receive a better service than when Devon local authority children’s services were last inspected by Ofsted in 2015.
"Some inconsistency remains in the application of thresholds across the county. Assessments are of a variable quality and do not routinely inform plans for children. The majority are detailed and updated on time but often lack analysis, professional curiosity and the voice of children and their families. Planning is not clearly linked to reducing identified risks and lacks clarity for families in some cases. Team managers provide support to social workers, but don’t challenge enough when the lives of children in need have not improved as expected," said the report.
Inspectors looked at the local authority’s arrangements for children in need and those who are subject to a child protection plan. They highlighted:
- Social workers working with children in need and those children who are subject to a child protection plan have manageable caseloads across all the locality areas in Devon.
- Children in need independent reviewing officers (CINIROs) have started to make an impact on practice by working alongside social workers and managers.
- Targeted and themed case audits have increased over the last 12 months, and address the correct priority areas within each locality, for example teenagers coming into care and children in need cases that have been closed.
- Early help practitioners now sit alongside social work teams. Consequently, social workers have a growing understanding of what wider support is available to families.
- Advocacy and family group conferences are offered routinely for children in need and those on a child protection plan, and both make a positive difference to children’s lives.
- When children are at a significant risk of harm and families are not making the changes required of them, legal services and the public law outline are used in a timely way.
However, the report states that child protection and children in need plans are often too adult-focused, particularly where domestic abuse is a feature. Assessments vary in quality - at best, they capture the history and strengths of a family in detail. However, in some cases key risk factors are missed.
Thresholds are largely well understood, but this is not consistent across the locality areas. At the point where statutory intervention is no longer necessary, families are too frequently left for several months before a replacement service is put in place.
The frequency of supervision is improving but is poorly recorded, and there are still significant gaps for some workers.
Ofsted recommends that Devon improves the quality of assessments so that these include an analysis of all presenting risks and what they mean for a child and improves the focus of children in need and child protection plans so that they link directly to and address the risks identified in assessments.
The level of challenge and scrutiny that managers give to social workers needs addressing and the accuracy of performance management data and the consistency of quality assurance audits needs improving.
Diane Wills is Consultant Social Worker at WillisPalmer, responsible for quality assuring the forensic risk assessment reports.
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