A local authority needs to improve after Ofsted found senior managers did not understand the “range and complexity” of social work caseloads.
An inspection of Northumberland children’s services found that the authority had been “slow to take effective action to reduce social workers’ caseloads” and that “caseload allocation is not always proportionate to social workers’ capacity and experience”. The overall quality of service was rated as ‘requires improvement’.
High caseloads for social workers and inconsistent management oversight had led to poor decision-making and delay for some children, Ofsted said. The inspectors also added that the caseloads of independent reviewing officers were too high.
Thresholds were not yet fully understood or applied across the council or within children’s social care. “This contributes to high numbers of inappropriate contacts and delays for children in receiving services at an appropriate level,” the watchdog found.
While many social workers carried out good work with children and developed plans that led to improved outcomes, “this is not a consistent picture across the service”, Ofsted said.
“Not all social workers are sufficiently skilled in recognising and responding to children who experience neglect and there are currently no agreed tools or models to work with families where neglect is a concern. Private fostering arrangements are not well understood by practitioners and the potential risks to children living in these arrangements are not well considered.”
Northumberland should reduce caseloads to manageable levels that match the knowledge and experience of each social worker, inspectors recommended. The council should also take steps to improve the quality of social work assessments for all children and young people.
The inspectorate noted how the services had highly effective responses to safeguarding children who go missing, or are at risk from sexual exploitation, and that its adoption performance was rated ‘good’, and that life story work done in the council is outstanding. The disabled children’s team was praised by the council for work “of a consistently good standard”.
Robert Arckless, cabinet member for Children’s Services, welcomed the findings which identified good practice and said it was “heartening” to see adoption work getting recognition.
He said the council is “working hard” to address issues highlighted in the report.
“We are already addressing the areas for improvement including introducing more robust procedures where children are placed outside their immediate family and reducing caseloads of social workers. An action plan is being drawn up to ensure we address all the findings of the report in a timely manner,” Arckless said.