Inspectors have raised concerns about “superficial” social work assessments that fail to address risk and needs for children in an ‘inadequate’-rated local authority.
Ofsted’s monitoring inspection into Lambeth, published yesterday, praised steps by senior managers to understand the children’s services and begin to make improvements, but found continuing problems with the quality of practice in frontline social work teams.
“Inspectors found a lack of professional curiosity and a lack of rigour shown by some staff and managers in the [integrated referral hub], leading to unsafe decisions for some children,” the report said.
The authority was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2015, and this was inspectors’ seventh follow-up.
Senior managers had been required to investigate how the number of children on a child protection plan more than halved in one year, from 297 to 138.
The monitoring inspection said: “They found that section 47 enquiries had not been carried out for a number of children who had experienced significant harm because of physical abuse or who were at risk from parental domestic abuse.
“Initial child protection conferences have now taken place for some children following this review. At the time of the visit, the number of children on child protection plans had risen to 163. Urgent work is currently being undertaken to ensure that managers and staff recognise risk and that assessments consistently lead to timely child-centred planning and decisions that make children safer.”
Inspectors referred a small number of cases to the director of children’s services, as “managers did not demonstrate that they understood their statutory duties to assess and protect children”.
The report praised improvements in looked-after children’s services, where successful recruitment and manageable caseloads meant the majority of social workers in the team were now permanent.
It concluded that senior leaders knew the service well, and they recognised the “considerable” amounts of work that still needed to be done.
“There is a strong commitment and a relentless focus and determination to improve outcomes for children and their families,” the report concluded.
Jane Edbrooke, cabinet member for children and schools in Lambeth, said: “This is a very welcome recognition of the hard work that has been put in to improve the service we provide for Lambeth’s children and young people.
“We will now focus on ensuring the progress Ofsted notes Lambeth has made at a leadership level translates into consistent performance across all social work practise and frontline management.
“We do not underestimate the challenge this presents; there is much more to be done and we continue to focus relentlessly on making sure that children and families in Lambeth benefit from consistently high quality support and protection.”