The ongoing high turnover of social work staff at all levels of Reading children's services continues to impede progress in improving the quality of services, Ofsted has warned.
In the second visit since responsibility for delivering children’s social care and early help services in Reading transferred to Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) in December 2018, inspectors said high turnover has contributed to drift and delay in progressing work with many children and families and they do not always have a named social worker.
At the monitoring visit in February 2018, there were a significant number of children’s cases that were not allocated to social workers. In May 2019, this recurred, and leaders identified that 171 children did not have a named social worker.
"Performance management data and the outcome of audits have identified the areas where improvement is essential. However, the lack of staff means that progress, when it is made, is very difficult to sustain. Senior leaders underline the commitment of BFfC to making the recruitment and retention of staff their utmost priority. However, this has yet to have significant impact on the quality of service that children receive in Reading," said the report.
Inspectors reviewed the progress made in the area of help and protection, particularly the work carried out in the Family Intervention Team (FIT), the Children and Young People’s Disability Team (CYPDT) and the Access and Assessment team (A&A).
- Some children are being visited by duty workers and so are seeing a succession of different social workers. This lack of consistency of social workers makes it harder for families to demonstrate improvement or for social workers to identify increasing risk or lack of progress.
- One four-year-old child met three social workers in as many visits.
- Many children subject to child in need plans are not being visited on a regular basis, and visits that do take place are not recorded.
- For those children ‘held’ in the A&A team in particular, there are delays in developing and progressing plans and holding reviews, and there is a lack of urgency in some cases where circumstances for children are not improving.
- Strategy discussions and subsequent reports demonstrate multi-agency involvement, effective information-sharing by those present and evaluation of risk, although the attendance and contribution to these by the police is variable.
- There are some delays in convening initial child protection conferences and there are further delays in visits following the outcome of these.
- There are also some delays in undertaking and completing assessments due to the high staff turnover and there is substantial variability in the quality of assessments.
- Plans do not consistently reflect all the issues that impact on the care of children identified in the assessment or the recommendations of the assessment. It remains the case that not all outline plans are sufficiently specific or targeted.
- Despite the introduction of rigorous tracking arrangements noted in the March 2018 monitoring visit, inspectors saw significant delays for a small number of children in the completion of pre-proceedings work.
- There has been some improvement in the frequency of child protection conference reviews and core groups.
- The frequency and quality of supervision is variable. While there is management oversight, the difference that this is making is not evident in progressing cases.
- Through the audit process, leaders and managers have identified the areas that need to improve. However, in most cases it is difficult to see how this knowledge is driving and securing improvement for children and families.
"In common with previous monitoring visits, this visit has highlighted a recurring pattern of staff being recruited and then leaving relatively quickly. At the time of this visit, one of the two permanent members of the senior leadership team, the deputy director, who has been in post since November 2018, had resigned. Despite the immediate appointment of an interim deputy director and the six new temporary staff due to take up posts the week after this visit, staff morale is fragile," said the report.
"Their confidence that the small improvements made will be sustained and further improvements made is low. The interim director of children services recognises that the recruitment and retention of staff are fundamental to achieve change. BFfC has demonstrated their commitment to achieve this by investment in new recruitment resources," it concluded.