An "ambitious service remodelling" including a total reconfiguration of the ‘front door’, has been introduced at Surrey,Ofsted has said.
New arrangements had been fully operational for only five weeks at the time of the monitoring visit following the the implementation of a new practice model, called ‘family resilience’, underpinning a widescale planned redesign and restructure of children’s services.
"Senior leaders and managers had consulted widely and carefully on the reconfiguration of the ‘front door’, including with other local authorities, to design a model fitting the context of Surrey with the objective of achieving enduring change," said the report. "A fundamental aim of the remodelling has already been achieved, with a significant reduction in the previously high volume of contacts and referrals, and in the number of child protection investigations, child in need assessments and child protection plans."
As a result, social workers’ caseloads across the service have substantially reduced to an average of 15 each.
The local authority readily accepts that there is further work required to improve practice in some areas identified during the visit.
The visit was the third monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate, overall, in May 2018 and inspectors evaluated the ‘front door’, the local authority’s initial response to and management of incoming contacts and referrals.
The report highlighted:
- Under the new arrangements, initial contacts to the ‘request for support’ team are managed well through the careful and appropriate application of threshold guidance.
- Children at immediate and significant risk of harm are quickly identified and passed on without delay to assessment teams for urgent attention.
- Decisions to refer onto the single point of access (SPA), or early help hub, are also consistent with initial threshold levels of need.
- Under the new arrangements, partner agencies can seek advice through a new telephone consultation service when they are considering whether the needs of children require a formal referral to the SPA, which is already enhancing information sharing, understanding of thresholds, communication and confidence in the ‘front door’.
- The early help hub is well managed, employing skilled and professionally curious early help advisers who have a child-centred and evaluative approach.
- Initial management oversight and directions are thorough and prompt.
- Advisers’ written records and recommendations are reflective and concise, supporting well informed subsequent management decisions.
- Management oversight, directions and decision-making about contacts that are referred to the SPA service are also increasingly prompt, clear and well evidenced.
- Social workers in the SPA undertake multi-agency partnership (MAP) information-gathering swiftly and efficiently in accordance with timescale guidance that stipulates that management decisions be recorded within 24 hours. When timescales are extended, the reasons given are justifiable.
- Social workers’ recommendations are well-written and balanced summaries of information gathered, alongside any previous history.
- Police and health partners co-located in the SPA are supportive of the recently introduced changes and value the morning case discussion meetings to share information and discuss referrals where the thresholds are not clear.
- Inspectors agreed with the salient areas for improvement and learning themes identified in senior managers’ summaries of six cases that had recently been audited.
However, in deciding what type and level of service a family needs, social workers and managers do not always give sufficient attention to recurring patterns and themes within families, such as neglect and domestic abuse which could lead to some children not receiving the right help that they need.
"The local authority has audited over 500 children’s cases using an audit tool that invites an evaluative approach from first line managers completing the initial audits. The re-audits of the original audits and senior management moderations are slowly building a more accurate understanding of the quality and impact of social work practice. This ongoing, iterative and highly labour-intensive programme is a critical cornerstone of the local authority’s determined plans to achieve a sustained and widespread improvement in social work practice standards. Senior managers reported that they are seeing fewer cases with critical practice weaknesses, although the overall standard of practice signals that much more remains to be done to achieve the strong levels of practice that senior managers are committed to achieving," the report concluded.