Adult-focused assessments mean risk is not being reliably identified in Reading’s children’s services, an Ofsted report has found.
Inspectors rated Reading’s children’s services as ‘inadequate’, and identified “serious, persistent and systemic failures”.
“The safeguarding needs of children at potential risk of harm are not addressed by consistently prompt and thorough inquiries. Children are left too long in situations of unknown and acute risk,” Ofsted said.
“Escalating risks to children are often not recognised and acted upon urgently enough. Inspectors found too many examples where children at risk of harm had either not been seen by social workers or, if they had been seen, their experiences and the continuing risks to them were not understood and acted upon with sufficient urgency.”
The council said referrals had increased 18% in the past 12 months, and social work caseloads had increased by 45%. It said it fully accepted the findings, and Ofsted acknowledged that steps to improve the retention of permanent staff had shown progress.
High staff turnover
Inspectors found assessments carried out by social workers were “all too frequently adult-focused” and omitted consideration of family histories and lacked understanding of children’s experiences.
“A number of immediate concerns were referred by inspectors to senior managers. The local authority took urgent and appropriate action in response to these concerns,” the report said.
High staff turnover meant families and carers found it difficult to build trusting relationships with their social workers.
“This shortfall was particularly acute in the access and assessment teams, adversely affecting the quality of child protection inquiries and assessments and militating against careful, consistent management oversight of cases.”
Delays and drift meant children were looked after “too late” and the onset of care proceedings was often delayed due to poor management oversight of social work in pre-proceedings.
Inspectors identified strengths in “limited areas”. A multi-agency safeguarding hub supported joint communication and information sharing, and the practice for children with disabilities and their families was stronger than in other parts of the service.
Jan Gavin, lead member for children’s services in Reading council, said the council had an improvement plan in place.
“The council has already committed an additional £1.4 million to increase the number of social worker and management posts,” Gavin said.
She added: “The report recognises there has been an improvement in our performance in many areas since we have successfully appointed a permanent senior management team in children’s services and that we are addressing our recent over-reliance on agency staff with an aggressive, and so far successful, recruitment campaign to attract permanent staff.”