Large caseloads for social workers are a problem in most of the councils told by Ofsted to take urgent action to improve child protection after its first round of unannounced inspections.
Of 18 inspections, urgent issues were identified in nine. Five of them – Cornwall, East Sussex, Hounslow, Redbridge and Warrington – were afflicted by high caseloads. Ofsted also found a lack of capacity in social work teams in two of the other four councils – Calderdale and Cambridgeshire.
At Cornwall, Ofsted found many social workers were carrying “excessive caseloads”, while the creation of new senior social worker posts, which include mentoring and supervision, had the “potential to reduce capacity for direct work with children and families”.
Ofsted told the council this should be an “area for priority action”, which means it will be specifically addressed in any future inspection.
The most serious concerns were at Leeds, where Ofsted said seven children from 23 case files had been “left at potential risk of serious harm”, though both teams it inspected were fully staffed with qualified workers.
Other issues in the nine councils where priority action was needed included inadequate supervision and problems with recording cases on IT systems.
IT problems in North Yorkshire
Inspectors found an IT system failure at North Yorkshire, where the council had identified “significant compatibility problems” between the Integrated Children’s System and the children’s social care electronic database already in place.
The unannounced inspections are key to government attempts to improve child protection.
Ofsted is using the term “areas for priority action” after complaints from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) that the phrase it had planned to use, “serious concerns”, could give an unduly poor impression of safeguarding.
“We will be looking at the inspection findings in more depth before meeting Ofsted to review the first inspections under the new framework to ensure that the evaluation of inspectors’ findings is consistent and appropriate,” said David Williams, chair of ADCS’s standards, performance and inspection committee.