The Department for Education has sent a troubleshooter into Dudley council to decide whether to strip it of control of children’s social care.
The move follows the authority’s children’s services being judged ‘inadequate’ in an Ofsted report published today.
The inspection report found widespread failures across provision in Dudley, and as a result Nicky Morgan announced that Eleanor Brazil would be brought in as a children’s services commissioner to oversee improvements in the council, and lead a review “as to whether the most effective way of securing and sustaining improvement in Dudley is to remove the control of children’s social care from the council for a period of time”.
Last year Brazil was appointed commissioner of Sandwell’s children’s services, and previously fulfilled the same role in Slough, which has since seen its services moved to an independent children’s trust.
Legacy of deterioration
In its inspection report Ofsted said Dudley’s senior leaders are making an effort to tackle “a legacy of deteriorating services”, but the local authority is working from a low base, and improvements would take a significant amount of time.
Social workers in Dudley were not visiting young people often enough and inspectors identified “unacceptably long periods between visits”. Some assessments took too long and lacked a clear risk analysis, the report added. During the inspection, inspectors referred 21 cases back to the local authority where there were “serious concerns”, which included young people not being seen by social workers.
“At the time of the inspection, 33 children and young people did not have an allocated social worker. Some had been waiting for as long as 17, 25 or 29 days and up to three months, so were without purposeful statutory involvement to assess and meet their needs,” the report said.
The report identified some improvements in the services, with 78% of visits to children on protection plans happening within the prescribed two-weekly timescale in December 2015, compared to 37% in June.
However, recording in many cases was “poor” and focused on general conversations, rather than “purposeful visits to progress plans”. More than a third of single assessments in December 2015 took longer than 45 days to complete, and just 3% were completed in 10 days.
“The majority lack sufficient analysis of risk, and risk is often implied rather than explicitly articulated,” said Ofsted’s report. “The individual needs of children and young people are not always clear, as records are copied across groups of brothers and sisters.”
An ongoing restructure has seen reduced caseloads for some social workers, while others continue to have high ones while the services are redesigned.
Poor attendance by social workers at the young person’s sexual exploitation panel, young people experiencing drift and poor infrastructure to track performance information were other issues identified by the inspector.
Ofsted called on Dudley Council to “urgently” introduce quality assurance processes, improve the quality and consistency of record keeping, and ensure that social work visits to children and young people are regular and purposeful.
Sarah Norman, chief executive of Dudley Council, accepted Ofsted’s findings and said it confirmed the council’s own self-assessment.
“We look forward to working with the commissioner to drive forward our improvements and we can assure all borough residents we will not stop until the children of the borough have a service we can be proud of,” Norman said.
A spokesperson for the DfE said if it does not see “considerable improvement” it will not hesitate to take further action.