An Ofsted monitoring inspection at Kirklees council, rated ‘inadequate’ by inspectors last year, has found that high caseloads and “workforce instability” are limiting the pace of improvement.
Social workers went on strike earlier this month at the West Yorkshire authority as part of a long-running industrial dispute, in part over caseloads – which Unison claimed had doubled since 2012.
Ofsted inspectors, who visited at the end of June, noted that practitioners were “not able to complete all the tasks needed to support children and families effectively, because their caseloads are too high”. Staff turnover, they added, was “impacting adversely on continuity for children”, although the council was making efforts to take on experienced team members.
“Absent or ineffective” edge-of-care services for children were increasing the pressure on social workers, Ofsted said.
Despite the problems, the monitoring report found that staff remained “child focused and motivated” – but it acknowledged that low morale was an ongoing issue.
As well as social work practice, Ofsted looked at the effectiveness of multi-agency arrangements – observing “good multi-agency attendance at child protection conferences and review meetings for children looked after” – and of management and oversight.
Inspectors found that senior managers were “appropriately focused” on implementing performance monitoring measures, and that better understanding of data was helping to drive improvement in some areas of practice. But they also said that the trackers relied on by managers were “not sufficiently responsive to emerging risks and needs”.
Inspectors were also concerned that despite regular supervision, there was evidence of “drift and delay” in the majority of cases. “The management challenge is not sufficiently robust,” the report said.
The government appointed Eleanor Brazil as a commissioner last year, to advise whether Kirklees children’s services should remain in council control or be moved into a trust or alternative model. Earlier this month Leeds council announced that it had been approached by the Department for Education, on Brazil’s recommendation, and would be entering into a formal ‘improvement partnership’ with Kirklees in order to provide support.