Senior leaders at Herefordshire Council have improved the overall stability of the social care workforce, from a very low base, Ofsted has said.
The focused visit looked at the local authority’s arrangements for receiving referrals about children who may be in need or at risk of significant harm, children transferring to and from early help services, the effectiveness of child protection enquiries and the quality of assessments and interventions for children in need of help and protection.
Senior managers have increased much needed management capacity and reduced overall social work caseloads across the service. This has been achieved very recently and over a relatively short period of time.
"Plans for improvement are appropriately focused on core areas that make the most difference to the lives of children. Senior leaders and managers have a realistic view of the quality of practice, which remains too variable and is not yet good," said the report.
Revised performance management and quality assurance approaches have been in place for only a few months and are starting to show some very early impact. The pace of progress has been hampered by staff turnover and difficulties recruiting to key management positions, such as lead officer for quality assurance.
- Since the last inspection, there has been an increased stability in the management and functioning of the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) and assessment service.
- The effectiveness of responses in the MASH has been maintained and improved since the last inspection.
- Decision-making following contacts to children’s social care, including those out of hours, is proportionate and results in the timely progression of referrals to statutory services.
- As well as the immediate presenting issues, the wider needs of families are identified and addressed by social workers undertaking children’s assessments.
- Leaders are implementing ambitious strategic plans for the recruitment and retention of social workers and this is starting to show some early impact in some parts of the service.
- Senior leaders have taken steps to understand the experience of frontline practitioners in response to recommendations from the previous inspection.
- Strategy discussions to consider children at risk of significant harm are consistently timely and well attended by key professionals.However, the quality of the initial planning for children following assessment or child protection enquiries is variable. For a small number of children, assessments do not always translate into the provision of effective help to divert them from statutory services.The level of management oversight of casework is improving but does not yet robustly challenge less effective practice in some cases.Ofsted recommends that in order to improve social work practice, Herefordshire should focus on application, by partners, of thresholds for making referrals for statutory social work intervention and improving the quality of assessments, including the time taken to complete assessments and the level of frequency of visits to children.
Management oversight and social work supervision and understanding the experiences of children and families subject to repeat child in need assessments needs attention.