Ofsted warns council over social work visits during school hours

The 'inadequate' council has been told it is falling short of expectations in its own action plan

Photo: Kiko Jimenez/Fotolia

An ‘inadequate’ council has been told that social workers seeing children during school hours could harm their educational outcomes.

A monitoring inspection of Torbay children’s services child protection processes said social workers were “routinely” seeing children during school hours. While the visits were made with the permission of school staff, they meant children were missing lessons, the report added.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “It is really important that social workers routinely see children. Equally, inspectors want children to have the chance to learn and reach their full potential and not have their school day unnecessarily disrupted.”

The inspection praised social workers seeing children regularly, alone and having their views reflected well in assessments and care planning arrangements. However, Ofsted said the local authority had not met the expectations of its own action plan for improvements.

Improvements

While the frequency of social work visits “has improved significantly”, the timeliness of visits as part of a child protection investigation declined in the six months prior to inspection. The local authority said the reason was a recent increase in child protection investigations.

Inspectors praised effective tools used by social workers in practice.

“Social workers routinely use a range of tools…to ensure that they gather the experiences and wishes of children effectively,” the report said.

It added that social workers are proactive in their attempts to engage absent fathers in assessment and planning processes, and this was contributing to positive outcomes for children.

It concluded that – while key weaknesses remain – there are signs of improvement. However, the quality of assessments and plans for children were still too variable.

“Based on the evidence gathered during visit, inspectors identified areas of strength, areas where improvement is occurring, and some areas where progress has been much slower and has not met the expectations in the local authority’s action plan.”

25 Responses to Ofsted warns council over social work visits during school hours

  1. Tom J January 30, 2017 at 3:00 pm #

    I’m glad to see this message. I often saw that the in the drive to reach visit targets a high level of pressure often led to social workers getting the visit completed come hell or high water. I can recall senior managers saying ‘don’t bore me with the detail, just get the visit on the system’.

    The Munro Report was published in 2011 arguing for a child centred system with purposeful visiting- six years later, we can see that progress is slow.

  2. Sarah B January 30, 2017 at 6:02 pm #

    As a child protection social worker I find that school is frequently the only place that a child feels truly safe to open up about their lived experience. As it is not always safe to speak at home when their parents are around. This time can be the difference between keeping a child safe and leaving them vulnerable. Education is highly important but if they are living in an unsafe environment then they frequently struggle to focus on their school work as they have worries beyond their years.

    • Ann McCabe January 31, 2017 at 12:55 am #

      when you take a child away from class you are setting the child up to be bullied by other pupils. School isnt the safest place for many children. Children are often picked on as a direct result of social workers and other professionals taking children away from their schoolwork. Another point is the child, may become distracted by what is asked of the child.

    • Tom J January 31, 2017 at 9:34 am #

      The challenge is that they were ”routinely” seeing children during school hours. Hence it appears likely that this was linked to visiting targets.

    • Lou February 1, 2017 at 7:08 am #

      I agree about cp issues etc, but visits could be done after school….also if a child needs to be seen routinely this should be done with consideration to the child’s needs and not what is convenient for the sw.

    • Planet Autism February 1, 2017 at 9:23 pm #

      And what about the many, many unwarranted referrals for alleged CP concerns which turn out to be wrong, where parental consent has not been sought, the child nor parent advised of their rights, but social workers see the child anyway?

      What about a child’s right to have an advocate present? Especially if they have a neurodevelopmental condition which means they not only communicate atypically but perceive the world and their experiences atypically and the totally autism-ignorant (for instance) social worker puts 2 and 2 together and makes 5, because there is nobody there who knows the child and what they mean?

      This attitude is wrong. You said yourself “if” they are living in an unsafe environment – but social workers go in with the assumption that the referral is accurate. Knowing that social workers ask unethical leading questions as well, it’s a recipe for disaster.

      • Tom J February 2, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

        Planet Autism- I maybe on my own here- but I certainly value your perspective. Its vital that social workers weigh up the competing need to respect parents versus that of keeping children safe.

        I think that one challenge is that when a tragedy like Baby P happens, Society demands action with a ‘do whatever it takes to prevent this happening again’ approach. However the only way to prevent all future child deaths would be a complete Police State. So accepting that no one wants a Police State we need to identify what steps we can take that are proportionate.

        So when a call comes in from a school reporting an injury/harm. The social worker should try to get as much information as possible and to decide the most proportionate response which keeps the child safe but that does not misuse power.

        Im reminded of this court case where ‘social services did get it wrong: http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2013/416.html&query=%22sylvia+and+chew%22&method=boolean

    • Mike West February 6, 2017 at 10:34 am #

      Wow! You sound very dangerous!

  3. Spike January 30, 2017 at 8:12 pm #

    Lordy lordy, once again damned whatever you do. So if you are a GOOD social worker, who is making time from the mountains of paperwork (which if you don’t keep on top off will lead to an HCPC sanction) to actually SEE the children on your ridiculous caseload, regularly you are actually in the WRONG!!!!! There are only really five possible visits after school each week (most young people do not respond well to meeting their social worker at break time) so would OFSTED prefer if children were ONLY seen as per statutory requirements, as a nice little box ticking exercise because most social workers have caseloads of 35 plus….. Most of them school age. Why anyone either becomes or remains a social worker currently amazes me.

  4. Angela January 30, 2017 at 9:02 pm #

    I totally agree with Sarah and echo her experiences. She has just about summed up the essence of why it sometimes becomes necessary for children to be seen in a neutral environment where they can express their wishes and feelings more freely.

  5. Lauren January 30, 2017 at 10:44 pm #

    Sarah i can’t agree more. Kids dont open up at home where parents are often lurking downstairs I’ve had massive disclosures in the school environment where they feel safer

    • Lisa Birchall January 31, 2017 at 11:56 am #

      Children can express their feelings and wishes at school in a non-judgemental environment. Ofsted ensures that schools have safeguarding arrangements and appointed leaders to make safeguarding a priority. Visiting a child in the school environment is not an appropriate way to maintain contact with the child. Surely it is essential that they are visited in their home environments.

  6. Chris January 31, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

    I interview children at school by default, for the same reasons as Sarah. I always arrange it carefully with their safeguarding lead, and take their lead on when the best time and place to meet would be. Social workers are expected to use their judgement and this is one area I don’t understand the criticism.

  7. Anita Singh January 31, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

    So exactly what time should social workers see children, since most finish school around 3.30 to 4.00 pm. Children are usually starving and want something to eat and by the time they get home are tired. So where, when and how would Ofsted suggest a child should be seen.

    How likely is a child to open up about serious issues, if either a parent or another care giver could be the source of abuse or other problems and within earshot of the caregiver? Are social workers not qualified or skilled enough to ensure that visits to school are undertaken discreetly either at the start of the school day, straight after play time or lunch break, so that the child is not being overtly taken out of a lesson?. Which environment is more neutral and safe – at home or school? How is a child who discloses abuse or neglect going to be supported at home? I wonder whose practise is really inadequate the social worker’s or the Ofsted Inspector’s?

    • Planet Autism February 1, 2017 at 9:32 pm #

      I find it interesting, that if an adult makes an accusation of harm against another adult, it is called an “allegation”, but the word for a child making an accusation of harm is “disclosure”. Innocent until proven guilty? This type of word perhaps helps to explain the attitudes towards asking leading questions by social workers. Some seem to think it’s acceptable practice. Any child having suffered harm should be able to get help, but going in without an open mind is very harmful to families including children. Considering that children can lie, can have mental health conditions and other reasons to falsely accuse and fail to understand consequences of doing so, it’s worrying that everything a child says is automatically termed a “disclosure”.

      When you consider that abuse of vulnerable children is also going on in schools by school staff and when parents report it, including with evidence, the authorities do nothing, it’s shocking to realise how biased the system is.

      • Tom J February 2, 2017 at 3:06 pm #

        You make a good point generally in terms of the use of the emotive word ‘disclosure’.

        There was a court case last year (reference below) where the judge expressed concern that the word ‘disclosure’ was unhelpful and led to a subsequent one sided exploration into what actually took place.

        Moreover I think that its certainly the case that if I say ‘the child disclosed to me that he saw his father’ versus ‘the child told me he saw his father’- both are the same thing but one takes a completely different tone.

        Reference.
        http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/532.html

  8. Christina Gibson January 31, 2017 at 9:25 pm #

    I think there are pros and cons to visiting children in school, I agree with the comments about the children often opening up more in School and it is often the only place you can have a real one to one with a child because they aren’t being interrupted by their siblings/parents like they would be on a home visit. I on the other hand do acknowledge that children are missing time in lessons and realise the importance of these children more often than not already behind, however I think it’s vital that children are seen in both environments. Realistically as previously mentioned, there are only 5 stat visits that can take place per week for school aged children and if you do go too late, it’s not appropriate as we are forever teaching our families to be consistent with routines and boundaries so why should we turn up at dinner time or just before bed so we can tick a box. We all know these visits aren’t just a ‘quick’ 10 mins either because usually we have a list of things we need to discuss with the parents about legal planning meetings or tasks to be completed and then unfortunately the children are then left as an afterthought because you’re thinking about rushing to collect you’re own child from the childminder after already being 30mins late…

  9. Wach February 1, 2017 at 2:32 am #

    IRO Handbook
    Statutory guidance for independent reviewing officers and local authorities on their functions in relation to case management and review for looked after children

    3.31
    The meeting should take place at a time convenient for the child. Meetings should not be arranged at a time that would result in the child being absent from school or college …..

    • Planet Autism February 1, 2017 at 9:25 pm #

      Good comment Wach. Too many social workers aren’t even aware of what is lawfully expected of them.

  10. Julie February 1, 2017 at 6:00 pm #

    High caseloads, complexities and the mounds of paperwork its amazing children are being seen above and beyond statutory visit which is to be undertaken at the home so I assume these routine visits to school were above statutory requirement – amazing and obviously well done given the praise re; child centred.
    I agree pros and cons re; school visits however I also believe that SW’s know when it is necessary and of benefit to visit a child in school / safe envionment and to respect the school day and when most convenient.

  11. Ruksana Chowdhory February 1, 2017 at 6:10 pm #

    Blaming social workers for structural problems is unfair and counterintuitive. The system is failing the children, not individual social workers.

  12. Paul Tate February 1, 2017 at 6:44 pm #

    I find this sincerely worrying when OFSTED are suggesting that this practice affects the educational attainment of children. As a Social Worker now for many years, I found communicating with children away from the family home, one of the only occasions that children talked more openly regarding their home living and relationships. School is often a safe and consistent place for children.

    When children have a child protection plan in place, its important that children have the opportunity, and the best possibility of talking to their Social Worker, this will then help to protect some of the most vulnerable children in our society.

    Which in the longer term, will hopefully have a positive affect on their educational attainment, if they begin / do feel safer in their home environment.

  13. Ann Edwards February 2, 2017 at 1:41 pm #

    I have many years of social work experience working with children and families and I agree with other contributors that Sarah has summed up exactly why children often need to be seen in school. I would add that relevant and justified referrals are often received from schools, in particular using information supplied by support staff and school nurses (though I suspect the latter have become as rare as hen’s teeth) My impression is that most children do feel safe in school, especially young children. It is often the trusted, familiar and caring staff member in whom the child confides. Obviously the social worker needs to see the child at home as well but in my experience (as a specialist in child protection) where abuse or neglect is occurring within the home or the child is being abused by a close relative, it is rarely possible for a child to speak freely. As suggested, perhaps the authority in question arranged all visits in school time just to meet targets. However even if this is so, it is better that children are seen in a timely manner than not. And how many Serious Case reviews have identified that a social worker had not spoken to a child alone. Really one needs to know more about the quality of the interviews and how they informed assessments. What do young people think? The person writing under the name Planet Autism seems to have a particular axe to grind.

  14. Rosaline February 2, 2017 at 10:44 pm #

    Visiting children in school is not the problem, taking children out of class is. Arrangements can be made to see children during breaks or after school, 10 years of practising and I never felt the need to disrupt a child’s education. Establishing rapport is essential with children, planning and preparing for visits leads to a purposeful visit.

    It does worry me when as a profession, we suggest that timescales should over ride unacceptable behaviour. Social work is the best profession in my humble opinion and we need to use forums such as our unions to represent the profession if we feel we are not being supported to practice safely, professionally and in a dignified manner. HCPC is not just for employers to refer to, but we can refer our employers when they are not adhering to our professional standards.

  15. Ann Edwards February 8, 2017 at 4:01 pm #

    It still depends whether seeing the child is part of an urgent assessment/investigation or not. If there are several children in the family at different schools it is hard to fit in all interviews in an appropriate timescale. And breaks are not usually long enough by the time the child has visited the toilet, had a snack/lunch. Seeing children as part of a planned programme of intervention/ involvement is different.