Manageable caseloads for social workers are improving services at an ‘inadequate’-rated council, Ofsted inspectors have said.
A monitoring inspection of Cumbria children’s services, rated ‘inadequate’ last year, identified manageable caseloads and social workers becoming more “conversant” in a new model as positive factors.
However, there were still multiple concerns about social workers being “over optimistic” with families and not using family group conferences effectively.
Areas of strength
Inspectors focused on how thresholds for intervention were now managed in the service and praised improved management oversight, good quality early help work and social workers who were now better able to recognise children’s cultural and religious heritages.
“Based on the evidence gathered during the visit, inspectors identified areas of strength, areas where improvement is occurring, and some areas where progress has not yet met the expectations in the local authority’s action plan,” inspectors said.
“Social workers have manageable caseloads of an average in the low twenties and this means that they generally get things done on time. They are supervised regularly, but would benefit from a lower turnover of team managers as this would aid consistency of decision making at the front line.”
Despite this, thresholds were not “well understood or implemented by professionals”, as social workers were “over optimistic” about parents’ willingness to engage.
“Inspectors saw examples of children with the same plan regardless of whether it was a child protection or child in need plan. Children are therefore on plans for prolonged periods of time, moving between levels of intervention without a clear focus on the outcomes needed to improve their lives,” the report said.
It added that social workers were “aware of the potential benefits” of family group conferences, but the technique was not in general use.
Independent reviewing officers were not ensuring child protection plans included “specific and measurable targets to promote children’s safety”, Ofsted stated.