Frequent changes in senior managers at Reading and a high turnover of frontline staff continue to adversely impact on managers’ ability to bring about improvement, said Ofsted.
The eighth monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in June 2016 said that a new interim director of children’s services has been in post since the beginning of March 2019 and a permanent deputy director started in November 2018.
"The recent recruitment of permanent team managers is a positive step, but the instability and interim status of large parts of the workforce indicate ongoing fragility. Caseloads remain too high in some access and assessment teams," said the report.
While demand across Reading local authority children’s services remains high and well above that of comparable authorities, it has recently started to reduce. The quality of performance data is unreliable. It does not allow managers to gain a consistently clear understanding of performance across all areas of the service. This hampers managers’ ability to accurately measure compliance with basic practice requirements.
The children’s single point of access (CSPoA) has broadly sustained the improvements seen in the 2017 monitoring visit. However, weaknesses in some areas of practice seen at that time remain, and the quality of social work practice in child protection enquiries and assessments remains inconsistent.
- Practitioners within the CSPoA have a shared understanding and application of thresholds. Timescales for initial screening and enquiries are mostly met.
- Decisions about next steps are mostly appropriate and proportionate and are signed off by social workers and endorsed by team managers.
- Children at risk are identified quickly in CSPoA and are allocated to a social worker without delay within the advice and assessment service.
- The threshold for holding strategy discussions and initiating subsequent child protection enquiries is appropriate in most cases.
- The response to children who go missing is rigorously overseen through effective weekly multi-agency ‘missing’ meetings.
However, thresholds are not always well understood by partner agencies and partners are too reliant on children’s services to determine the level of intervention. Too many referrals are made to children’s services that do not meet the threshold for intervention which increases the work of the CSPoA and contributes to the comparatively high level of referrals.
A small number of children who need early help experience delays in receiving a service. This is due to a duplication of work within the CSPoA, repeated management decisions and further consent from parents being sought for early help enquiries.
The process of access and assessment managers chairing strategy discussions is unhelpful. It leads to a duplication of work as the receiving assessment manager needs to appraise themselves of all necessary information to effectively chair the meeting.
Furthermore, not all relevant partners contribute to strategy discussions. This practice was noted in the 2017 monitoring visit and has not improved.
Caseloads in some teams are too high. Inspectors also found the quality of performance management information is variable and sometimes poor. Data provided to inspectors identified 191 children who had not been seen by a social worker.
"Previous monitoring visits have highlighted a recurring pattern of permanent staff being recruited, strategies being developed, plans being implemented, and improvements started but not sustained. Recently arrived leaders are rightly focusing their energies on trying to build stability within the workforce and improving the quality of practice," the report concluded.