Significant weaknesses remain in the quality of services to children who go missing in Worcestershire children’s services, Ofsted has found.
There are weaknesses in the electronic systems to support managers in the Family Front Door Service which was being focused on within the monitoring assessment by Ofsted and in the consistent focus within assessments and plans on the lived experience of children.
This was the second monitoring visit since the local authority was judged inadequate in November 2016. Inspectors found that the local authority has been working hard to improve services to children since Ofsted inspectors conducted a monitoring visit in May 2017. At that time, inspectors concluded that insufficient progress had been made since services were judged to be inadequate in November 2016.
Many of the actions taken by the local authority are quite recent, and some are too new to have yet had a significant impact on improving services.
However, the local authority has achieved some tangible improvements. The report found:
- A well-focused improvement plan and significant investment in additional staffing have supported these improvements.
- The local authority has prioritised engaging the workforce in understanding the improvements needed for children in Worcestershire.
- Social workers and team managers spoke to the inspectors about the positive impact of recent audits and the role of the principal social worker to support their practice.
- When referrals about children’s safety and welfare are made to the FFD, initial decisions about levels of risk and need are made much more quickly than previously.
- Threshold decision-making about children’s levels of need is more consistent.
- As a result, the services received by most children are better matched to their needs.
“The local authority has tackled successfully a significant backlog of work in the FFD that inspectors, who visited in May 2017, found was delaying children being seen and receiving services,” said the report. “Tight oversight of initial decisions about children’s levels of need and the services and further assessments that they may require is resulting in decisions being made more quickly, mostly within 24 hours.”
The local authority has also taken an important step forward to engage health agencies to fulfil their statutory expectation of attending all child protection strategy discussions.
However, the report highlights that work to ensure that children who are at risk as a result of going missing is poor. Despite a recommendation at the time of the inspection to improve management oversight, performance information and practice in this area, performance is declining.
There is no management oversight of missing notifications received by the FFD, the inspectors highlights and as a result, the risks to children who go missing, including children missing overnight, are not adequately assessed.
In July 2017, only 61% of children received a return home interview after going missing, and only 24% received their interview within 72 hours of their return. This means that children’s feedback about the ‘push and pull factors’ that influence their running away is not being consistently collected to help plan to keep them safe in the future.
This is reduced performance compared with that at April 2017, at which time all children received an interview and 68% of these interviews were within 72 hours.
A new template for recording home visits to children is supporting social workers to focus on the voice of the child and to improve their analysis, but this development is too recent to have had a significant impact, the report concluded.