Serious and widespread failures in child protection, looked-after children and adoption services have been found in an Ofsted inspection of Sandwell children’s services.
Rating the authority’s children’s services as ‘inadequate,’ Ofsted said that some of the services had deteriorated since the last inspection. While most of the recommendations from the 2015 Ofsted inspection had not been implemented, some services had declined in their effectiveness.
“Only in recent months, with the appointment of a new senior management team, has the trajectory of improvement quickened. However, the basic elements of good social work practice are not yet in place, for example effective management oversight, a robust response to risk, and timely and thorough assessment and plans,” said the report.
The report highlights that while there is political support for the recruitment of additional social workers, the workforce stability is fragile. Nearly 60% are either in their assessed and supported first year of employment (ASYE) or are agency workers. The lack of social workers experienced in complex casework, together with significant turnover in the workforce, means that the overall quality of work is poor and that relationships between children and their social workers are often fragmented.
Due to a better understanding and application of thresholds, the number of children on child protection plans has significantly increased. This dramatic rise means that, despite the recruitment of more social workers, caseloads remain high, and social workers have insufficient time to deliver good quality social work or attend training to develop their practice.
Services for children and families in need of help and protection have not improved enough from the judgement of inadequate in 2015. However inspectors noted some improvements including effective working of the MASH and a wide range of early help services.
However the report highlights that:
- The response to children going missing or at risk of sexual exploitation lacks rigour.
- Return home interviews for children who go missing are not consistently offered or completed.
- The response to children in private fostering arrangements remains under-developed.
- The quality of assessments, plans and management oversight across all services is poor.
- Decisions to bring children into care are not always taken soon enough and, for many children, there is drift and delay in securing permanence.
The health needs of children looked after are mostly well met, however, their educational attainment is lower than the national average. Far too many care leavers are not in education, employment or training and they also need better access to adult mental health services.
Ofsted makes 17 recommendations including:
- Improve management oversight and decision-making across all services to ensure that needs and risks are fully addressed and that assessments, plans and interventions are appropriate.
- Ensure the establishment of a strategic children’s partnership across Sandwell.
- Ensure that assessments are regularly updated.
- Improve the quality, delivery and review of plans across all service areas.
- Increase the number of foster carers to meet the varied needs of children looked after.
- Develop links with adult mental health services to ensure that care leavers’ health needs continue to be met when they move from children’s services.
The inadequate rating follows last year's announcement by the government to introduce an independent trust to run children's social care services in the borough. Sandwell Children’s Trust will go live on 1 April and Councillor Simon Hackett, cabinet member for children's services, said the foundations were in place for it to support vulnerable children and families in the borough.
Councillor Hackett added: “The trust is the future of children's services in Sandwell. It will give us a fresh start and the opportunity to achieve real change. It cannot succeed without the council's full support which I will make sure it receives.
“We have a positive working relationship with the Department for Education, Commissioner Malcolm Newsam and have welcomed Ofsted’s ongoing monitoring visits. We accept this report and welcome the recommendations it makes that set out what the council and the trust must do to get the service up to the necessary standard.”