Social workers and managers should be better supported to describe and analyse risk factors in cases of neglect and to challenge parents who do not engage with services, Ofsted has recommended.
In a report published today, In the child’s time: Professional responses to neglect, the inspectorate finds that the quality of social work assessment in neglect cases across England is too variable, leaving some children in situations of neglect for too long.
Although there were some examples of good practice in the 11 local authorities Ofsted inspected for the report, nearly half of assessments in the cases seen either did not take sufficient account of the family history or did not adequately convey or consider the impact of neglect on the child.
Some assessments focused almost exclusively on the parents’ needs, rather than analysing the impact of their behaviour on their children.
In those cases where children were not making positive progress, a common feature was lack of parental engagement with the process; however, many social work professionals failed to challenge these parents and only a few multi-agency groups demonstrated clear strategies for tackling non-compliance.
Other findings included a lack of adequate training and a failure on the part of social workers to apply research findings in relation to neglect. Many of the professionals interviewed were not offered in-depth training in recognising the signs of neglect or given ready access to best practice examples.
Furthermore, the quality of written plans varied and some authorities did not have systems in place to support social workers in monitoring the impact of neglect on children and the effectiveness of their interventions.
Of particular concern, Ofsted said, was the fact that some local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) had difficulty identifying the extent of neglect in their area, with some having no clear picture of the number of children in families where neglect may be a risk factor or processes in place to monitor whether interventions for neglect were working.
“Some children live with serious and complicated difficulties in their families, and we need to examine what we can and should be doing to stop neglect far earlier in their lives,” said Debbie Jones, Ofsted’s director for social care.
“Social care professionals have a tough job to do. The pressure of increased workloads and the scrutiny on child protection means that dealing with this challenging area effectively can be extremely difficult.
“Despite this, it is clear that some children are not getting the help they need. LSCBs and local authorities must work to develop their understanding of neglect and to make sure that they are tackling this robustly and without compromise.”
Among a raft of recommendations, Ofsted said the government should review the social work reform programme and ensure that pre and post-qualifying training includes mandatory material on neglect. This should focus on how to identify and assess neglect, and include training on child development, detachment theory and child observation.
The inspectorate also recommended that all LSCBs develop a multi-agency strategy to increase their local understanding of the prevalence of and improve responses to neglect.
Local authorities should support social workers and managers in the use of models and methods of assessment that enable them to effectively describe and analyse all risk factors in cases of neglect and then take decisive action where it is required.
In addition, social workers should have specialist training and supervision to enable them to exercise professional authority and challenge parents who fail to engage with services.
The thematic inspections were carried out across 11 local authorities, drawing on evidence from 124 cases and from the views of parents, carers and professionals from the local authority and partner agencies.
No children were found to be at immediate risk of harm at the time of the inspections.