Inspectors have praised a council’s improving recruitment and retention of social workers but highlighted “drift and delay” in some children’s cases.
Ofsted said “manageable caseloads and good support for newly qualified social workers” were making it easier to recruit and retain staff in Solihull, where this had been a “major issue” following a restructure last year.
Solihull was rated ‘requires improvement’ overall, and inspectors found frequent social worker turnover over the previous 12 months had “impacted on the ability of children, young people and their carers to build and sustain meaningful relationships with their social workers”.
“When combined with a lack of robust management oversight, it engendered a sort of ‘starts again social work’ practice, in some cases,” inspectors said.
Positive impact of restructure
However, changes meant staff turnover had “fallen significantly”.
“Action taken by the local authority has resulted in a significant improvement, and turnover is now down to 12%. This is an indication not only that things are beginning to settle down, but that the restructure has had a positive impact on recruitment and retention,” Ofsted said.
The council was, however, criticised for not “consistently” supporting children well. Looked-after children numbers were “disproportionately high”, inspectors said, and it was evident some children had experienced “drift and delay”.
Frontline management oversight was not consistently rigorous or robust, and there needed to be “a greater sense of urgency and a more ruthless focus on core practice, in order to improve outcomes for children and young people”.
However, moves to restructure children’s social care services, establishing a multi-agency safeguarding hub and rolling out a new early help offer meant “good progress is being made”.
“The local authority is ambitious. Knowledgeable and experienced senior managers and leaders are working well together to manage change in a systematic way,” the report said.
It recommended that the level of critical challenge by frontline managers needed to be “consistently rigorous and robust”, and that the council effectively uses the Public Law Outline to avoid drift and delay.
Responding to the report, councillor Bob Sleigh, leader of Solihull Council, said: “We are glad that Ofsted has recognised that our vulnerable children, young people and families are safe and are being supported. And that our local Safeguarding Children Board is good. I do hope people will take the time to read the report in full so they can see a balanced picture and that we are performing well in some areas.
“We accept we need to be better and I’m glad Ofsted agree that we’ve got the foundations in place to achieve this. Our focus over the coming weeks and months will be to address the weaknesses they have identified and with my fellow councillors, I am confident that we have the management expertise and skilled workforce in place to do this.”