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Tameside makes progress

Ofsted has found that Tameside children's services has continued to make some progress in the improvement of its services for children in need of help and protection.

In the seventh monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in December 2016, inspectors found that in most cases, identification of the children who are in need of urgent help and protection is recognised and responded to quickly through a multi-agency response.

"Threshold decision-making about children’s levels of need has improved and is now more consistent than it was during the monitoring visit on the 10 and 11 January 2018," said the report. "As a result, the services received by most children are relevant to their needs."

However, Ofsted warned that weaknesses remain in the quality and consistency of assessments and analysis of children’s needs, planning, chronologies and supervision.

The visit, which was the seventh monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in December 2016, reviewed the quality of social work with children in need of help and protection, with a focus on arrangements in the ‘Hub’, which is the local authority’s ‘front door’ team, and the duty teams.

Since the last monitoring visit in August 2018, the permanent director of children’s services, assistant executive director and head of service for child protection and child in need have taken up their posts, which has strengthened the expertise and capacity in the senior management team.

The local authority engaged well with external partners to review its work in the hub, and duty teams and held a practice week that included practice observations and case auditing.

Tameside has invested in a strengths-based model of practice, which it started rolling out in September 2018. This has been well-received by social workers, who report that it benefits their practice.

However, staff recruitment and retention of frontline workers and service unit managers continues to be a significant challenge for the local authority. Senior leaders recognise that workforce instability brings with it a number of vulnerabilities, including inconsistency in the quality of practice.

Ofsted highlighted:

- The Hub has an overly complex system for receiving contacts from members of the public, families and professionals who are seeking advice and support which includes the use of multiple inboxes for emailed contacts.

- Contacts for early help are screened and appropriate services and interventions are identified in consultation with parents.

- The use of thresholds by other agencies is improving and decisions regarding thresholds in the hub are appropriate.

- Managers provide thorough and effective oversight of decision-making for the majority of contacts and referrals in the hub and all recommendations for next steps are suitably reviewed by managers prior to authorisation.

- When children need help out of hours, the emergency duty team responds to contacts effectively.

- The majority of children at risk of significant harm receive a prompt response.

- Child protection enquiries are timely and thorough, and they evidence clear information-sharing and focus on risk.

- The quality of assessments of children’s needs remains variable, as was found at the December 2016 inspection.

- The majority of social workers receive regular supervision, although the quality of supervision is variable.

- Inspectors found that case audits accurately reflect the quality of social work practice for individual cases.

"Children are seen by social workers who know them well and who undertake purposeful direct work with them in line with their plans. There is, however, insufficient analysis of children’s views, which are not consistently informing planning and decision-making," said the report.

"Senior leaders understand the challenges that they and their staff face and are realistic about their strengths and areas for development. This is based on a thorough and accurate self-evaluation of social work practice with children and their families. Social workers have gained more confidence in senior leaders’ decisions because they can see for themselves the signs of progress and improvement," it concluded.

Monitoring visit of Tameside children’s services

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