High staff turnover, a reliance on agency workers and ‘inconsistent’ risk assessments for children vulnerable to sexual exploitation have resulted in an inadequate rating for West Berkshire’s children’s services.
Published this week, Ofsted’s inspection report highlighted that a “significant proportion” of social workers in key social work teams were agency staff, while staff turnover was particularly high.
This “resulted in children experiencing unacceptable disruption, uncertainty and inconsistency,” Ofsted found.
“Frequent changes of social workers and managers mean that plans to reduce risk for children lose momentum,” the report stated. “Too many children have experienced unacceptable drift and delay in having their needs met. A significant proportion of child protection enquiries, assessments and plans for children are poor.”
West Berkshire council is the third local authority Ofsted has rated ‘inadequate’ in the past week, following critical reports in Lambeth and Cumbria.
Its service for children needing help and protection was rated ‘inadequate’, while services for looked-after children and leadership, management and governance factors were all judged as ‘requiring improvement’.
‘Inconsistent risk assessments’
Plans for children were not outcome focused and, in some cases, failed to address risk, the report stated. Child protection chairs were also criticised for failing to provide challenge that would bring about improvement.
The inspectorate also discovered that risk assessments for children vulnerable to sexual exploitation were “inconsistent”, while action plans were not always effective or even shared with professionals working with the child.
The council needed to improve management oversight – and ensure it was reflective and focused on the child’s experience – as well as prevent unnecessary drift and delay in social work intervention, the report recommended.
Gordon Lundie, leader of West Berkshire council, said that the judgement was expected.
“We identified the problems that led to this over a year ago and put in place an improvement programme, which hasn’t had the time to improve the outcomes as much as we would like but the inspectors themselves said the failures have been identified and are being effectively addressed,” Lundie said.
He said the report was “disappointing” despite being exepcted, and it brought to light issues that the council had not yet identified.
“Child sexual exploitation documentation wasn’t being done to the standard I think we would like to see it done to and we’re going to look to improve that. But even the report itself acknowledges that we have been diligent with responses to challenges, and we face the same challenges everybody else does in local authorities which is a rising demand for social work and child protection cases following on from the Baby P tragedy, following on from Oxford’s child sexual exploitation challenges, and we have seen a rise in demand of about 30% in the last 4/5 years,” he added.
Lundie said he expects the improvement plan to have been properly embedded when the authority is reinspected.