The direction of travel is “more promising” at Wirral children’s services although there is still a great deal of work to be done, Ofsted has stated.
In its fourth monitoring visit since the authority’s children’s services was judged to be inadequate in September 2016 which focused on looked-after children, inspectors found the Wirral is “now beginning to show signs of making some progress in improving services for its children and young people who are looked after”.
“The focus is shifting from social workers complying with minimum standards and procedures to improving the quality of practice for the benefit of children, but this will require wholesale cultural and practice changes,” the report found.
Overall, inspectors saw improvements in compliance but little improvement in the quality of practice and where good practice was identified, this was down to individual social workers.
Measures have been taken to increase the number of social work staff and managers to deal with the demands on the service and this includes a reliance on agency staff. “Considerable effort” is being made to stabilise the workforce however, the majority of cases tracked showed that children have had two or three social workers and IROs in 2017 as well as a number of changes in social worker in previous years. One young person said that they had had 36 different social workers.
A change in social worker not only leads to unhappiness amongst the young people who become increasingly unwilling to trust professionals, but it can also cause poor information sharing amongst professionals resulting in placement breakdown.
Inspectors noted better compliance with essential minimum requirements, such as completing plans, convening essential meetings and recording casework.
The quality of Personal Education Plans remains variable, as it was at the last inspection, although very recent plans show improvements. Training in PEP completion has been delivered, and the educational progress of children looked after is now being carefully tracked.
A key shortfall remains the absence of up-to-date assessments for children looked after which are crucial as their circumstances and needs change over time. Historical concerns are not always appropriately included in forward plans. Risks from, or to, children are not clearly articulated. Case files show variable managerial case oversight and staff supervision.
Head-teachers spoken with described a positive change of culture over the last 18 months which has been led by the senior leadership team in children’s services. They say that this has resulted in more collaborative working between agencies, and better multi-agency work with families and children.
The previous third monitoring visit found progress had been made in care leavers’ services.