Torbay children's services continues to struggle recruiting sufficient social workers in the safeguarding and family support service, Ofsted has warned.
Due to the serious and widespread child protection concerns identified in the January 2019 monitoring visit, inspectors revisited and evaluated the quality of help and protection provided to vulnerable children and their families in safeguarding assessment teams (SATs) and in the safeguarding and family support service (SAFS).
"Since the previous visit, recruiting enough experienced social workers has been difficult. Senior leaders responded appropriately by redeploying staff from the intensive family support service to the SATs. Initially, this helped to reduce social work caseloads, but this reduction has not been sustained. High caseloads in the longer-term SAFS persist, and there are too few social workers to carry out the work needed. Consequently, too many children are not seen often enough by the same worker," said the report.
Social workers and their managers are working extremely hard to cover the basics but, because of competing priorities, are unable to intervene effectively with many children in need of help and protection. As a result, the quality of practice for a significant number of children is extremely concerning, Ofsted warned.
However, inspectors did find some good examples of effective multi-agency assessments and interventions that are making a real difference to children. A significant strength in Torbay is the commitment of staff and managers to do the right thing for children. Most social workers told inspectors that despite the high levels of work, they like working in Torbay and feel well supported.
An additional team of interim workers and managers begins work in Torbay at the end of April for 12 months. Senior leaders are aware of where pressures lie and have a considered strategy for how best to utilise this extra resource. However, the wider issue of staff retention remains a priority as staff leaving at short notice results in too many changes for families.
The report stated:
- Leaders are aware that practice is not consistently safe enough for too many children in Torbay and are working diligently to address the significant deficits.
- Children and family assessments vary in quality and timeliness.
- Inspectors found some examples of strong analytical assessments.
- Thresholds for child protection are being applied more consistently, resulting in proportionate action to protect more children, which is encouraging.
- Performance management arrangements not yet fully embedded.
- A therapeutic support programme led by child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) adds depth and focus to assessments and interventions in the SATs and SAFS.
The recruitment and retention of staff is a priority and huge challenge for Torbay.
"The service currently relies on high numbers of agency staff, particularly in SATs and SAFS. Too many children experience constant changes in social workers, so are unable to develop trusting relationships with them. Senior leaders show a relentless commitment to workforce development and training. Along with other initiatives, they are actively promoting the ‘growing your own’ recruitment of social workers, with a comprehensive training and support package for newly qualified workers," the report concluded.