Staff in an ‘inadequate’-rated council felt “vulnerable” and fearful of challenging or exposing poor practice, an Ofsted report has found.
Inspectors said relationships had “broken down” between senior managers and frontline practitioners at Gloucestershire’s children’s services, and staff had raised an “unprecedented number” of whistleblowing concerns.
Ofsted said the service was “failing to protect vulnerable children and families” and had “deteriorated significantly” since being rated ‘inadequate’ in 2011.
Lack of experience
Most social workers had less than two years’ experience, and had high, complex caseloads that required practitioners with more knowledge and experience.
“Coupled with inconsistent, weak management oversight and poor supervision, this does not support effective or high-quality help for children and families,” inspectors found.
The report added there were “serious concerns” about the senior leadership team’s integrity.
“Inspectors discovered significant discrepancies in some information provided to them by the senior leadership team, which demonstrated that some staff feel vulnerable, unsupported by senior managers and fearful of challenging or exposing poor practice,” the report said.
The council said it has taken immediate action by replacing the leadership of children’s services and making “fundamental changes” to how the service will work.
The council had already begun investing £9.2 million in the service before Ofsted’s inspection.
Ofsted said there were poor relationships between managers and staff, a high number of inexperienced social workers and high turnover.
“Significant weaknesses in social work practice are prevalent across help and protection, and in some areas of children looked after, children are not seen early enough by social workers, and significant delays in responding to their needs mean that some children are left exposed to unassessed risk for far too long,” the report said.
Inspectors referred many cases back to children’s services after social workers and managers failed to identify risk, and some children were not allocated social workers “for several weeks”.
The report said senior managers had failed to give the full picture to the council’s chief executive and political leaders, who had now taken steps to address the issues by investing in recruiting more frontline social workers and other “new developments”.
Pockets of good practice were identified in the council’s adoption performance, which was rated ‘good’ by inspectors.
Ofsted said the council should take “immediate action” to improve the quality of management oversight, and ensure supervision was strengthened.
Peter Bungard, chief executive of the council, apologised for the inspection outcome.
“We have brought in some of the country’s top social work specialists to lead our 500 dedicated], passionate and committed social care and support staff,” Bungard said.
He added: “There are some areas of good practice that have been recognised: our record on adoption and fostering, the commitment of individual social workers to their children, our young ambassadors programme and our work with homeless young people. We must build on our track record in these areas to ensure all of the support we provide to children and young people is the best it can be.”