Leaders at Warrington ensure that children and their families receive good quality services that help to protect children and improve their day-to-day experiences of family life, Ofsted has said.
The operational director for children’s social care, who also holds the role of deputy director of children’s services, is highly focused on ensuring that frontline staff and managers understand what makes good practice, and is determined in her role as practice leader to see this exemplified in all interventions with children and families.
"The director of children’s services (DCS) is instrumental in promoting strong strategic partnerships. This results in widespread multi-agency involvement in effective and extensive early help and edge of care services. Consistently strong multi-agency engagement is also evident in the commitment to children who are the subjects of child protection and child in need plans," said the report.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection is good. Ofsted highlighted:
- Children and their families are very well supported through an extensive range of early help services, provided by skilled and well-trained frontline workers.
- The MASH includes many co-located partners and the multi-agency environment facilitates swift information-sharing, and largely prompt and appropriate decisions are made concerning contacts and referrals.
- Children at risk of harm are protected by timely and rigorous responses from the MASH and the out-of-hours service.
- Most social work practice for children who are on child protection and child in need plans, including practice with disabled children, is of a consistently high standard and has a positive impact.
- A broad range of intensive interventions help children and families to address a range of complex difficulties, including neglect, domestic abuse and substance misuse.
- Responses to children with specific vulnerabilities are well managed.
- Children who go missing and are at risk of harm and exploitation in the community receive well-coordinated and proficient services to assess concerns and mitigate risks with return home interviews being arranged promptly.
However, a small number of screening decisions concerning repeat contacts with the MASH are made without sufficient checks on children’s progress with all universal or early help services involved in their case. In some of these cases, services are already in place and decisions are made that are not fully informed by full and updated information. Consequently, a small number of children may not receive the right type of help at the earliest opportunity. Senior managers are fully aware of this issue and have recently introduced credible checks and balances to address it. However, limited positive impact of these was seen during this inspection.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers is good. The report states:
- Decisions to bring children into care are generally appropriate, timely and are based on well-written assessments.
- Children’s permanent living options are considered through comprehensive planning as soon as they enter care.
- Social workers regularly update assessments of need for children in care.
- Most children thrive in well-matched placements that improve their circumstances from their starting points following entry to care.
- Proactive measures are taken when children encounter difficulties in their placements, and there is a risk of the placement breaking down.
- Many young people leaving care do well and make good use of the support offered by conscientious personal advisers.
- All young people leaving care have up-to-date pathway plans (PPs) that are regularly reviewed.
However the report warns that a significant number of children who are the subjects of care orders are placed at home with their parents. Some of these children have remained the subjects of statutory orders for unnecessarily long periods, and a very small number have continued to experience poor parenting.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is good. Inspectors noted:
- Leaders and senior managers are energetic, collaborative and highly committed to the continued improvement of services for vulnerable children. Political leadership is vibrant and inquisitive.
- Senior leaders’ goal of bringing team managers closer to frontline practice is already apparent in their detailed knowledge of children’s cases.
- Mature strategic partnerships have been forged and strengthened by the chief executive and DCS.
- Senior managers look outwards to consider best practice from other local authorities and invite regular peer reviews across the range of services.
- Regular practice learning is embedded and closely linked to the ongoing quality assurance of frontline practice.
- Senior managers have access to reliable and accurate performance information, which is regularly interrogated.
Most social workers receive regular case supervision, alongside group supervision and learning circles. The quality and extent of recorded supervision are mixed. While most recording is detailed, demonstrating reflective discussions about children’s daily lives and their progress, some records include descriptive updates and a simple set of tasks to action. A small number of case records for care leavers featured gaps in supervision of many months. Senior managers recognise that the quality and depth of supervision discussions are not always well evidenced in children’s case files. They are taking action to improve this.
"Social workers’ morale across the service is high, and they are realising the benefits of smaller teams, continuous allocation to children, manageable caseloads and the considerable investment in their training and development. Social workers also appreciate the importance given to their emotional well-being and welfare through regular ‘check-ins’," the report concluded.
Warrington should improve the effectiveness of the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) screening of repeat contacts for children living in circumstances in which they are neglected. Decisive and early protective measures should be taken for children on child protection plans who experience neglectful parenting for extended periods. Warrington also needs to address the pace of reviews and decisions for children who live at home and who are subject to care orders, said Ofsted.
Warrington Borough Council
Inspection of children’s social care services