Torbay children's services is taking too long to address critical weaknesses, Ofsted has warned.
Previous monitoring visits have revealed that the quality of help and protection for vulnerable children continues to be very concerning at Torbay. The local authority has made some progress to implement the necessary improvements, but the pace of change for children in need of help and protection is too slow, Ofsted said.
"Senior leaders understand the significant weaknesses. They fully accept that progress is too slow and has stalled in some areas. Audit activity has increased, but there is some confusion about what constitutes good practice, and there is little or no consideration given to the impact on children’s lived experiences. Ineffective and uncoordinated systems to analyse audit outcomes or impact on practice impede the local authority’s ability to track or sustain progress. These are serious shortcomings," said the report.
The visit was the third monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate for the second time in June 2018. Because there were serious and widespread child protection concerns identified during previous monitoring visits, inspectors revisited and re-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). They also evaluated the work in the ‘special guardian’ pilot team and in the externally commissioned interim innovation team, which began work in Torbay in May 2019.
On a corporate level, the chief executive, the senior leadership team and the leader of the council are strongly committed to helping and protecting Torbay’s vulnerable children. The recently appointed interim deputy director has brought a sense of urgency to and focus on the needs of children.
* Capacity in the SATs and SAFS teams has recently improved.
* The introduction of the ‘innovation’ team has helped to reduce social work caseloads, but they need to reduce further.
* Staff turnover in the innovation team is very high.
* Thresholds for access to children’s social care services are not well understood by partner agencies or by local authority staff in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH).
"Social workers and managers report that they are no longer reacting to daily crises because they have more time to plan work. More children are being visited by the same worker. There is emerging evidence of purposeful work helping to protect some children. Staff morale is good and, while 40% of frontline staff are not permanent, there has been a reduction in the number of social workers and team managers leaving at short notice," said the report.
- There is emerging evidence that lower caseloads are leading to more purposeful direct work being undertaken during the assessment period.
- The quality of children’s assessments is starting to improve but, in too many cases, those carrying them out do not gather enough information and evaluate all the concerns.
- The quality of special guardianship assessments has improved, following a management decision in April 2019 to set up a dedicated team to carry out this work.
However, the report warned that:
- Assessments are overly focused on the parents rather than on the impact of adult behaviour on the children. This includes when there are concerns about parental domestic abuse, drug and alcohol misuse and mental health issues.
- Most children’s plans are not sufficiently specific about what needs to happen, and lack clarity about the expectations of parents.
- There is evidence of drift and delay, which causes too many children to be left at risk of harm. Many of these children and their families have been known to children’s services for extended periods of time.
- When risks to children increase, the public law outline (PLO) pre-proceedings process is not yet timely enough for some children.
- Despite the implementation of a revised supervision policy and specific training for managers, children’s experiences and their views are not consistently at the centre of supervision meetings.
- Most supervision records are compliance-orientated updates of circumstances, with task-based directions. The support provided to social workers to explore different ways of engaging those families who are resistant, avoidant or hostile is limited.
- Supervision is recorded as a one-off event, rather than a continuous, ongoing evaluation and a measure of progress of children’s lived experiences. As a result, ongoing risks for some children are not understood or acted on quickly enough.
- Responses to exploited children remain under-developed. There is a lack of coordination with the police to understand the best way to disrupt connections between children and adults who are grooming them to sell drugs.
- Staff’s knowledge and understanding about national concerns regarding criminally exploited children or ‘county lines’ is limited. This was a significant concern during the inspection in June 2018. The interim deputy director is taking immediate action to address these issues.
"Most staff report that they like working in Torbay’s SATs and SAFS teams. They describe the working environment as being calmer and note that they are ‘able to plan’ and ‘reflect more about their practice’, although reducing caseloads remain relatively high. Social workers who met with inspectors have over 22 children on their caseloads, and some have higher numbers," the report concluded.
Monitoring visit of Torbay children’s services