Wakefield strengthens front door activity

Wakefield children's services has undertaken significant activity to strengthen the front door and build a sustainable framework to support social work practice, Ofsted has said.

In the second monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in all areas in the SIF in July 2018, inspectors found that despite this, the impact of planned actions is too slow in some critical areas of core social work practice.

"This includes, weaknesses in identifying risk, screening of contacts and decision making at the front door. Although some assessments are improving, too many are still of poor quality, and child protection enquiries are not consistently thorough. Not all frontline managers consistently challenge poor practice," said the report.

Senior managers have a clear understanding of the significant weaknesses still to be addressed in services for children and young people.

During this visit, inspectors reviewed the progress being made in relation to the local authority’s arrangements for the ‘front door’, the initial response to children in need of help and protection, and the management of allegations of abuse, mistreatment and poor practice by professionals and carers.

They found:

- Senior managers have restructured the MASH to provide an accessible single point of contact for professionals and families requesting help and support. Senior managers have spent time supporting partners to better understand thresholds.

- More children are now being appropriately referred who need this level of support and this is a significant improvement since the last inspection.

- Very recent changes to contact pathways and workflows are supporting timelier and more effective screening of contacts through the streamlining processes.

- Social workers consistently contact referrers in order to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the concern and to gather further information. Consent is routinely and appropriately sought.

- When children are identified as being at immediate risk of harm, the initial response is generally swift. Strategy meetings held within the newly established investigation team are timely, facilitate information-sharing and identify how the investigation will be undertaken.

- The newly restructured children missing service is showing early signs of improvement in engaging and understanding why children go missing from home and care. Workers are finding creative ways to engage with children, helping them to explain the reasons why they go missing.

- Return home interviews are beginning to be more timely which is an improving picture since the last inspection.

- Senior managers continue to stabilise the workforce and secure more manageable workloads.

- Social workers say that they have improved and trusting relationships with the management team because of their increased engagement, high visibility and support, which is improving staff morale.

- Improving performance information and routine auditing is enabling managers and leaders to better monitor and understand workloads, compliance, and quality of social work practice.

- Increased scrutiny through better performance monitoring is starting to enable managers to appropriately target areas of practice requiring a deeper interrogation.

However the report states that the screening of contacts is not always effective. History is not always well used to understand children’s experiences, and some decisions are too reliant on self-reporting without information being corroborated.

There is a lack of multi-agency planning and action to reduce immediate risks to children. The local authority relies too heavily on parents to implement safety plans and keep children safe while child protection investigations are undertaken.

The response to requests for help and protection out-of-hours is not always robust. Not all children who had been identified at risk of significant harm have had a timely strategy discussion to understand and address risk. In some cases, this has been left to daytime services to undertake, leaving some children in situations of unassessed risk for too long.

The local authority recognises that weaknesses in identifying risk remain, that too many assessments are poor and that child protection investigations are not consistently thorough. While some children are receiving better assessments of risk, for too many children this is not the case. Inspectors identified missed opportunities to address risk and need.

Some investigations fail to fully explore risk because some social workers focus on presenting issues and too often lack professional curiosity in understanding children’s broader needs and risks. History is not used well enough to give a deeper understanding of children’s lives or identify patterns of concerns and needs. As a result, the response has not been robust enough to assure inspectors that risk and children’s needs are always identified and met at the earliest opportunity, and children have experienced repeat child protection investigations or multiple assessments.

Furthermore, frontline managers are not routinely identifying some of the continuing shortfalls in the quality of social work practice, such as the quality of child protection investigations and poor identification of risk.

Progress has been made in improving the frequency and regularity of supervision, however, supervision is not always regular and is not supporting practitioners and frontline managers to reflect critically on the impact of their decisions or provide clear case direction to improve children’s lives.

However, the report concludes that designated officer (DO) arrangements are now effective. Capacity has increased through the recruitment of an additional DO and dedicated administrative support which is enabling more timely investigation meetings. Allegations against professionals are robustly managed. The response is thorough, and there is effective information-sharing and decision-making. Thresholds for providing advice and guidance are appropriate,and referrals are tracked and monitored. This was a significant weakness at the last inspection.

Monitoring visit of Wakefield local authority children’s services

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