Nearly 500 children in Manchester waited a ‘considerable’ time for a social work assessment and, as a result, were left potentially at risk, according to a highly critical Ofsted inspection.
Manchester City Council’s children’s services were deemed inadequate by the watchdog, which found flaws in management, high caseloads across all social work services and that poor social work practice was not being challenged effectively.
The report, based on a June/July inspection, stated: “Inspectors found a large number of cases (486), which had waited a considerable time for a social work assessment resulting in a significant number of children not being seen or having their needs assessed or recorded.”
It added that: “This potentially left children at risk.” Inspectors also found 44 children waited over six months for a visit from Manchester social services.
The report did clarify, however, that the authority had since reviewed all of the 486 cases, which indicated no child had been left at risk. But Ofsted said: “This backlog of unactioned and poorly recorded cases was widespread across all localities, and indicated a systemic weakness in capacity and process that left some children at risk.”
Adoption services were found to be slow and child sexual exploitation processes were not well embedded, meaning the authority does not learn effectively from these episodes. Caseloads were also found to be high and meant social workers were not always able to complete and record their work or visit children within acceptable timescales.
The council’s director of children’s services, Mike Livingstone, said ensuring the safety and well-being of children is their “absolute priority”. “We fully accept that services for children in the city are not yet as good as we want them to be,” he said.
Livingstone was eager to clarify that there was “no evidence” suggesting that young people are not safe in the city. “Ofsted’s judgement that children were at potential risk of harm was largely based on a backlog of social work assessments.
“Since the inspection this backlog has been eradicated for good. We have also reduced the number of cases that need to be dealt with by our social workers.”
Ofsted listed reviewing caseloads and ensuring there is a sufficient number of suitably experienced and qualified staff to deal with current demand as a priority for the council. Managers should also make sure that allocated social workers attend case conferences, looked-after children reviews and other relevant meetings.
Keeping case records up to date, making sure return interviews are done for children who go missing and ensuring learning and change as a result of children’s feedback and complaints were other improvement priorities listed in the report.
Inspectors did compliment the council on taking steps to reduce caseloads to ensure early work to prevent children and families requiring more significant intervention, but said this had not yet reduced the number of children subject to protection plans or coming into care.