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Strong political support for children's services at Wandsworth

There continues to be strong political and corporate support for children’s services at Wandsworth, Ofsted has reported.

This includes ongoing investment, including increased capacity at senior manager level, increased numbers of social workers in the referral and assessment service and plans for additional early help staff, a focused visit of the authority found.

"The recruitment of a permanent social care workforce is a strategic priority. Since January, staff turnover has reduced and there is less reliance on temporary social workers. However, progress in the referral and assessment service has been hampered by staff turnover and, for a few social workers, high caseloads. While there has been some improvement in key areas of practice in the service, such as the timeliness of some assessments, this improvement is very recent," said the report, which looked at the local authority’s arrangements for receiving referrals about children who may be in need or who may be at risk of significant harm, children transferring to and from early help services, the effectiveness of child protection enquiries and the quality of assessments for children in need.

Senior leaders and managers have a realistic view of the quality of practice, which remains too variable and is not yet consistently good.

Inspectors highlighted:

- Too many families are subject to a high level of initial statutory intervention which is not always matched to their needs or proportionate to the presenting risk.

- Consent for checks within the front door is too routinely overridden and, even when parents and carers are contacted, consent is not always clearly explained, or their views are not accurately recorded.

- Inspectors found delay in processing some contacts within the front door; for some children, this meant a delay in their needs being assessed or for other families a delay in being provided with help and support.

- Police co-located in the front-door service expressed concerns to inspectors about the low threshold for strategy meetings initiated by the front door team.

- Partner information-sharing and participation in strategy meetings are too variable. Notably, the participation of key health professionals remains underdeveloped, despite some recent progress.

- The quality of assessments is not yet consistently good across all teams.

However the report states that most child protection enquiries are detailed and child-centred; they identify the risks to children and result in immediate safety planning where required.

Senior managers have recognised the need to develop wider support for families during an assessment and have introduced a weekly ‘interface’ meeting where decisions can be made for early help staff to start working alongside social workers.

Families benefit from a broad early help offer that is appropriately targeted at the right level of need for children. The out-of-hours arrangements provide children and families with an effective service.

Furthermore, corporate support for children’s services is evident in the improved joint-working with housing to meet the needs of 16- and 17-year-old young people presenting as homeless.

Management oversight of casework is providing clear and timely direction for social workers, but in a very small number of cases managers do not yet robustly challenge less effective practice.

However, social workers told inspectors that they enjoyed working in Wandsworth and were positive about the support from team managers and regular personal supervision. Staff really value the ‘open door’ approach of senior managers, including the director’s ‘breakfast’ sessions. Attendance at training by social workers is prioritised by managers, despite the high volume of work in the service overall.

In order to improve social work practice, Wandsworth should address the seeking and recording of parental consent for enquiries when appropriate.

The understanding and application of thresholds for initiating child protection processes needs to improve and there should be better partner engagement in strategy discussions and strategy meetings.

Finally, Wandsworth should improve the timeliness of assessments for children in need.

Focused visit to Wandsworth local authority children’s services

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