Council takes action on ‘serious weaknesses’ in safeguarding hub

Processes for prioritising cases working well for most children but some changes still moving too slowly at Surrey, say inspectors

Photo: EtiAmmos/Fotolia

A council’s actions to address “serious weaknesses” in its multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) have been noted by Ofsted.

In a report on a monitoring visit to ‘inadequate’-rated Surrey council in August, inspectors highlighted concerted efforts carried out to address challenges in setting up the hub, which was launched in October 2016. These included increasing financial investment to ensure demand is met, and carrying out a practice review to which all staff were invited to contribute.

But inspectors also found areas of concern during their visit, which looked at Surrey’s response to children at risk of significant harm and the timeliness of initial visits as well as the MASH. Some changes were taking “too long to achieve” with children receiving an inconsistent response, they said.

Their report said “very recently established” processes for prioritising work within the MASH were “now working well for most newly referred children”. They added that management oversight was mostly timely, with evidence of appropriate review and challenge of decisions and work backlogs gradually reducing.

“Social workers within the MASH are enjoying working in the newly created hubs and they told inspectors that they feel their suggestions and concerns are heard and acted on by senior managers,” the report said.

‘Insufficient analysis’

However, some children whose circumstances demanded a social work assessment were being stepped down to early help, Ofsted said, while others at risk of significant harm were being transferred to area teams for assessment rather than holding a strategy meeting. In some cases “insufficient analysis of family history” or over-optimism about capacity for change were said to be the cause.

“This leaves these children in situations in which they are not assessed, helped or protected quickly enough,” the report said.

Inspectors also uncovered a backlog of referrals that had been screened by managers and held on a separate list within the MASH. In some of these cases, too, children’s needs had gone unassisted for too long, the report said.

New contacts, Ofsted found, were mostly being handled well, with senior social workers screening them and “the vast majority passed to the relevant hub for action within four hours”.

The inspectors also praised improved overall performance monitoring by managers thanks to an “increasingly detailed approach”. But they said that “greater rigour” was still needed in order to address the areas criticised in their report.

A Surrey council spokesman said: “Ofsted has recognised improvements we’ve made but we know there is more to do and everyone involved is working hard to ensure that our support for children and young people who need our help is as good as it can possibly be including through the work of the multi-agency safeguarding hub.”

This was Ofsted’s eighth monitoring visit to Surrey since the authority was inspected in 2014.

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