A local authority has been rated ‘inadequate’ after inspectors found “a legacy of widespread poor practice and ongoing systemic failures”.
Ofsted rated services for children in Barnet ‘inadequate’ in a report published last week. It found threshold decisions were “inconsistently made and misunderstood at all levels of intervention”.
“Large numbers of poor-quality assessments do not effectively analyse risk, so lead to reassessment and poor planning, therefore delays in the provision of services and poor outcomes for children,” the inspection said.
Poor-quality case recording and oversight led to “ineffective” case direction, which caused drift and delay for young people.
“The evaluation of practice is often too positive and minimises the risk to children. Managers do not provide sufficient guidance or direction to improve practice for children or keep children’s progress at the centre of their practice,” the report said.
Social workers reported having to “catch up” on uncompleted work, with changes to their line managers increasing delays. Cases passed to early help services were often not informed by social work assessments, and many children were returned to social work teams when further concerns arose.
The authority recognised that a 2014 restructure of children’s services was “wholly unsuccessful in achieving a positive social work service for children”.
“Since the local authority was last inspected in 2012, there has been a significant deterioration in the quality of service provision,” the report said.
However, it added that since 2016 the authority had taken positive steps to improve children’s services.
“The breadth and depth of this decline were recognised by the current director of children’s services. He commissioned an independent diagnostic review of children’s services in January 2016. This work confirmed widespread systemic weaknesses in practice,” the report said.
Turnover of social workers has reduced from 39% in September 2015 to 12.7% in March this year. Caseloads for social workers in duty and assessment fell from 37.5 to 12.7 between January 2016 and April 2017, and smaller social care teams have been created to help managers get to know staff better.
Chris Munday, strategic director for children and young people, fully accepted the findings and apologised for poor services.
“The need for systemic improvement across the service was identified by us and we have been working extremely hard to implement necessary changes, but these have not yet had the impact that is needed,” Munday said.
“We have undertaken a root and branch review of services and changes have been made to put children at the heart of what we do. There are new practice leaders in place. Caseloads for social workers have also reduced so we can improve quality and remove poor practice,” Munday added.
“Fundamental change of this nature can take time, but we are determined to make the necessary improvements at pace and our action plan sets that out. Safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children will always be our number one priority.”
The authority will invest £5.7 million to manage demand and improve quality, following the report’s findings. It has also entered into a “collegiate partnership” with another authority to share relevant social work knowledge and expertise.
The service submitted a detailed action plan to the council, where it said it aims to be re-inspected as a good service in two years.
“The focus of the draft improvement action plan is to enhance our practice leadership and core social work skills, ensuring that there is more understanding of the lived experience of children and young people and on improving their outcomes,” it said.
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