The second children’s services department in England moved out of council control has been rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, but inspectors noted improvements since an independent children’s trust took control.
Slough children’s services trust was inspected by Ofsted in November, seven weeks after it took over the running of children’s services from the council, a move forced by children’s minister Edward Timpson in an attempt to improve standards.
Ofsted found that “the decision to establish an alternative delivery model and the process of establishing the trust took too long”.
It also said that, despite efforts to reduce the number of agency social workers and managers, the proportion in many teams was “still too high”, and this hampered progress.
“Many children have been left too long in situations of risk or where their needs have not been met…The quality of assessments has improved since the last inspection, but is still too variable,” the report found.
However, despite the ‘inadequate’ rating, the inspectorate highlighted how some services had improved “very recently” prior to the inspection, and that children were “already safer as a result” of changes being made in delivering children’s social care.
“Under the decisive leadership of the chief executive of the trust, some important areas of poor practice are being tackled and children are already safer,” the report found. It added: “The pace of improvement has accelerated in the short period since the trust began operations. The response to new referrals is now better than at the time of the last inspection.”
Despite this, Ofsted found that for children who needed help and protection, “over the time period looked at during the inspection, too many cases were seen that had serious weaknesses”, and the multi-agency safeguarding hub was “significantly underdeveloped”.
Slough was the second council children’s services to be moved into a trust as a result of poor performance. The decision was made in July 2014, five months after an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating, but it was another 15 months before the trust launched.
Doncaster children’s trust, which was launched in October 2014, was also rated ‘inadequate’ in November. David Cameron recently announced that if local authorities couldn’t show an improvement six months after an ‘inadequate’ rating, they would have their children’s services taken over.
Ofsted said that a cash injection had helped to reduce social work caseloads in Slough, while newly qualified social workers were being better supported since the previous inspection in 2013.
However, it told the trust to “significantly” improve the quality and frequency of contact and support for care leavers, while it also must ensure that staff have the knowledge and capacity to complete quality, and timely, life story work. Leaders were told to prioritise creating a stable and permanent workforce.
Nicola Clemo, chief executive of the trust, said she was pleased Ofsted recognised the pace of improvement had increased and told Community Care: “The very positive thing for me within the report was them saying that the moral was good, if you’ve gone through what everyone has gone through and you’ve still got good moral, then I think it’s about building up our resilience so we can deliver on better outcomes.”
Slough will be embedding a new social work model, which Ofsted highlighted as “an evidence-based systemic model of service delivery”, to improve the service. The trust will also focus on recruiting more permanent social workers.
Clemo said the timing of the inspection was “premature” from her perspective but said an Ofsted inspection can act as “the best team-building exercise that you can do because everybody has to pull together”.
“I think the trust has got to do more to promote what it is doing and how it is working. At the same time we also want to develop the permanent staff who are here”, Clemo said, adding that staff had responded positively to the transition. Some employees resigned before moving to the trust and have since revoked their resignations, Clemo said.
The Department for Education said the report highlighted “the importance of the Government intervention in Slough and the radical reforms to transform failing children’s services initiated by the Prime Minister late last year”.
The spokesperson added: “This Government accepts nothing less than the best possible care for vulnerable children and will continue to make sure that not a single child is left behind.”