Council ‘overused’ written agreements in child protection cases

Local Government Association review identifies need for Wigan Council to better monitor written agreements with families

Wigan children’s social care relied too much on written agreements with families in some cases, according to a peer review by the Local Government Association (LGA).

The LGA peer review, conducted at Wigan’s request, found an “over-reliance” by social workers on written agreements in child protection and care cases.

The review team, which examined a number of case records in Wigan, said that written agreements had been used in several cases where repeat referrals had been made.

Ineffective agreements

“The original referral had been closed following assessment and intervention and the implementation of a written agreement,” the team reported. “The repeat referrals were the result of the written agreement not being adhered to. This highlighted an over use of written agreements which became ineffective [and] failed to address the issue of concern.”

The LGA review recommended that managers and social workers in Wigan ensure the use of written agreements is proportionate to the risk involved in each case. It also said how written agreements are working in practice needs to be reviewed and monitored, and evidenced in case records.

Wigan council told Community Care it had since reviewed the use of written agreements, developed a protocol to ensure their proper use and organised a workshop to make social workers aware of this.

Jayne Ivory, assistant director for children and families at Wigan Council, said: “The peer review helped reflect back that in a small number of cases written agreements may not be the best way of ensuring families with complex needs are able to sustain the change needed to prevent further intervention in their family life. This is an area of practice that has already been addressed.”

Areas for improvement

The LGA peer review identified several other areas for improvement in Wigan children’s social care:
– In a significant proportion of cases where sexual abuse appeared to be identified as a potential risk, it was not explicitly recognised among the risk factors
– Child protection plans could be more outcomes focused and SMART
– There was limited evidence that Wigan’s quality assurance arrangements are driving improvements in practice and outcomes
– The views of children and young people could be better recorded

Good morale

The review also found many areas of strength within the council including strong evidence of effective practice observation, good morale and strong, long-term social work at locality level.

“We were pleased that the review identified many strengths with the team being impressed by our innovative approach to children’s services through our Deal for Children and Young People,” said Ivory.

“They found the social care workforce in Wigan is committed and stable with low levels of staff turnover and low numbers of agency staff. The team highlighted how staff felt proud to work for Wigan, morale was high and staff are supported by high-level training and development.

“We are proud that Wigan council is a learning organisation which has the experience of the child at the heart of everything that we do.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on 28 October 2016 to remove a reference to a serious case review about a case at a different local authority

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