A council is “significantly” redesigning its front door services after an inspection identified social workers managing up to 65 cases each, a workload inspectors described as “unacceptably high”.
A joint targeted area inspection report into safeguarding at Oxfordshire council found a strong multi-agency response to child sexual exploitation risks, but “variable” social work assessment quality.
Three-quarters of referrals to the council’s multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) – where all initial enquiries relating to vulnerable children are sent and decisions are made about what action to take – were being stepped down too early help or leading to no further action, inspectors from Ofsted, the CQC, Probation and Constabulary found.
In the findings, inspectors acknowledged the council had identified solutions to problems at the ‘front door’.
The director of children’s services will later this month take wider plans about the redesign children’s services, and redevelop the front door service to improve timeliness and reduce the number of enquiries that require no further action, to Cabinet.
A new front door service will be in place by the autumn of this year, the council has said, and it will fit in with wider changes being made to children’s social care.
The joint inspection found that in some cases home visits were “not recorded on social workers’ case notes months after they occurred”. Social workers reported that record keeping had been impacted by demanding workloads and competing demands.
“Children’s social work caseloads at the ‘front door’ are variable, and some very high caseloads adversely affect workers’ ability to produce good quality written assessments,” the inspection said. It also said that “unacceptably” high workloads in a social work assessment team meant vulnerable children didn’t always receive a consistent service.
In a scrutiny paper published last week, the council acknowledged Ofsted’s inspection was “likely to be critical of our current model” and that it had “already begun a review of the MASH”.
While the council said that 75% of ‘Red’ (urgent) enquiries were completed on time, figures showed that only 17% of ‘Amber’ and 8% of ‘Green’ referrals were on time. Since the MASH was put in place, the number of single assessments carried out a day have increased by 78%.
“Currently, 75% of all enquiries into the MASH are designated [no further action]. This is where enquiries are made to the MASH which do not meet the criteria for further work by children social care. It is believed that children social care can handle these enquiries in a more productive way through the development of its future model.
“In particular, the introduction of new locality and community support teams will be developed to support professionals worried about a child at an earlier stage and triage enquiries before they get to the MASH,” the scrutiny paper said.
Children’s social care had overspent by £250,000 in the past year to increase capacity and cope with the demand being placed on the MASH. It was also revealed that a difficulty to recruit social workers at the launch of the MASH in 2014 meant it was already experiencing a backlog of cases a few months later.
Oxfordshire’s response to child sexual exploitation, led by the award-winning Kingfisher team, was praised for a “high standard of inter-agency working with sexually exploited children”.
Lucy Butler, the council’s deputy director of children’s social care, said the council is “now at the stage where we believe the [front door] service needs to be significantly re-shaped and we are already working with other agencies to make this happen”.
“Our priority remains keeping the most vulnerable children safe and we have a strong track-record on this. Our handling of child sexual exploitation also remains among the best in the country,” she said.
A paper outlining the future model of children’s services in Oxfordshire will be delivered to cabinet on May 24.