Social workers at Lambeth children’s services have inherited cases with “a legacy of inadequate practice” but do not have the capacity to carry out good quality interventions, Ofsted has warned.
As a result some practitioners’ assessments were not “child-centred” and had a poor analysis of risk, inspectors found at a monitoring visit in July.
This was the watchdog’s fourth monitoring visit to the local authority since it received an ‘inadequate’ rating in February 2015.
Inspectors did find that staff morale was good and social workers said they felt supported, however Ofsted said management oversight was “inconsistent and weak”, safeguarding strategy discussions were not taking place in a timely way, and in some cases it was not clear if visits to very vulnerable children were taking place routinely.
The inspection focused on what progress had been made to improve the quality of assessments and child protection plans, safeguarding arrangements in the child assessment team, and management decision-making in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH).
A review of the local authority’s arrangements to protect children at risk of child sexual exploitation and those missing from home and care also took place.
Inspectors found “limited progress” had been made, but said the appointment of Annie Hudson as interim director for children’s services and of more permanent senior managers had strengthened the leadership team and this had increased the focus on frontline practice.
“Senior leaders have a realistic understanding of the challenges facing children’s services and are taking action to address the significant deficits identified during this visit,” the report said.
Key findings included:
- Threshold decisions made by experienced social workers and their managers in the MASH were timely and effective in identifying children at risk of harm.
- There were a high number of referrals coming from other agencies (350 in July) and this was causing significant pressure “in a system already under stress”.
- The approach to child sexual exploitation cases was “piecemeal and case-by-case”.
- The quality of supervision was not yet consistently good enough, but frequency is improving. The introduction of reflective and group supervision is building confidence.
- The recruitment and retention of “high-calibre” team managers is a challenge, with the service currently relying on high numbers of agency staff.
Annie Hudson, interim strategic director for children’s services at Lambeth council, said she was glad Ofsted had recognised some of the progress made but acknowledged some areas still required “significant improvement”.
“We are confident that the comprehensive and ambitious improvement strategy that Lambeth has in place is the right one, involving as it does embedding a coherent practice framework and whole system redesign – including smaller teams with dedicated business support,” she said.
“We know that such change will inevitably take time but we believe that our strategy will deliver the sustainable change that really makes a difference to the lives of children and families in Lambeth.”