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Widespread deterioration at Trafford

There has been widespread deterioration in the quality of local authority services for children in Trafford as a result of failures in leadership, Ofsted has stated.

Judging the authority to be inadequate in an inspection of children's services, Ofsted said that services had declined since the last inspection in 2015, where services were rated as good overall and leadership and services for care leavers rated as outstanding.

"At the start of this inspection, the self-assessment and the presentation from senior leaders made clear that they believed services remained good or outstanding. They had no awareness of the decline in services and no accurate understanding of the current quality of practice," said the report.

"A lack of effective management oversight of practice at all levels had led to leaders and managers being unaware of significant weaknesses, such as those at the multi-agency referral and assessment team (MARAT). Had the inspection not taken place, weaknesses would not have been recognised and no action would have been taken. Given the widespread deterioration of services, and the serious lack of recognition or action by leaders, the overall effectiveness of local authority services for children is inadequate," the report added.

The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement to be good. Ofsted highlighted:

- At the point of inspection, the local authority multi-agency referral and assessment team (MARAT) was not providing a timely response to all children.

- Written referrals received from partner agencies for children at lower levels of need were not recorded as contacts in a timely way.

- The service did not have enough capacity, had no practice standards, and insufficient management oversight.

- For most children, assessments do not fully consider their past life experiences.

- Management oversight takes place but is poorly recorded and does not ensure good-quality social work practice.

However, there are a good range of early help services that support children well. Once identified, children who need intensive early help support are referred to a dedicated team. Children at immediate risk are responded to quickly and action is taken to protect them. Most disabled children receive a strong multi-agency response from the specialist complex needs team. The local authority and partners identify children who are at risk of exploitation, providing them with extra support.

Management oversight takes place but is poorly recorded and does not ensure good-quality social work practice.

The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers requires improvement to be good. Ofsted said:

- Because of the delay in action taken for children in need of help and protection, some children wait too long before they come into care.

- There has been a deterioration in the quality of service for care leavers since the last inspection.

- Young people have recently fed back to the local authority that they do not have copies of their pathway plans, and they are not used as a helpful tool to support them.

- Children have their needs assessed, but records are not always updated to reflect changes in circumstances.

Yet inspectors highlighted that most care plans are well written and identify key areas of support needed, with measurable outcomes to measure progress. Despite an increase in the number of care leavers needing support, the council is in touch with the vast majority of its care leavers. The virtual school works well with a range of professionals to meet children’s education needs.

The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is inadequate. The report highlights that:

- Since the last inspection in 2015, strategic leaders have not maintained an accurate understanding of the quality of social work practice.

- Inspectors identified significant weaknesses that were unknown to the local authority during this inspection, particularly in respect of the response to children in the MARAT.

- Despite appropriate governance arrangements and regular performance reporting, senior leaders do not have an accurate understanding of services.

- Quality assurance work over the last six months largely consisted of two thematic audits of very small areas of practice. The thematic audits were poor, and, in many cases, did not offer an accurate assessment of practice.

- Management oversight of frontline practice does not ensure that work with children is consistently good.

- Caseloads remain too high in some teams.

Yet the report highlights that the workforce in Trafford is stable, with low rates of staff turnover and sickness. Many staff have worked for the local authority for a long time, and morale in many teams is good. Workers have access to a range of suitable training and development opportunities. Some workers reported that training is helping them and talked about how they had put new ideas into practice to improve their work.

Ofsted recommends that Trafford's senior leaders improve their understanding of the quality of social work practice, through accurate evaluation of performance information, and implementation of an effective quality assurance framework. Management oversight at all levels of social work practice needs to improve with children in order to ensure that work is good and is helping them to achieve better outcomes.

The response to all children referred to MARAT needs to improve to ensure timely review and effective decision-making about the help that children require and the quality of social work assessment and plans need to improve to ensure that they are effective in meeting children’s needs.

Finally, the response to children who go missing should improve to ensure that return home interviews are completed and records of these contain information that will help reduce risk in future and the way in which all staff and managers listen to the voice of children to inform individual work and wider service development also needs work.

Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council
Inspection of children’s social care services

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