Social workers at an ‘inadequate’-rated children’s services have praised the impact of practice audits and the role of the principal social worker in supporting good practice.
In a report on a monitoring visit, Ofsted said Worcestershire council’s children’s services had “prioritised engaging the workforce in understanding the improvements needed for children”.
The service was also making faster and more consistent decisions about children’s needs following referrals and, overall, the authority was “beginning to make progress” towards improvement, though many of its recent actions were “too new to have yet had a significant impact”.
The report said initial decisions about levels of need and risk following referrals to the council’s Family Front Door gateway to services were being made “much more quickly than previously” by the multi-agency team, while threshold decision-making about children’s levels of need was “more consistent”.
The report added: “As a result, the services received by most children are better matched to their needs, supported by an improving application of the threshold for early help services.”
However, in a small number of cases seen by inspectors, decision-making “remains poor”. In one case the risks to a young child were “only recognised after multiple referrals were made by family members”.
The children’s services, which were rated ‘inadequate’ in a report published by Ofsted in January, had “tackled successfully a significant backlog of work” in the Family Front Door identified by inspectors in a previous visit in May.
Last month, it was announced that Worcestershire’s children’s services would be removed from council control after a review by a government-appointed commissioner, Trevor Doughty.
‘Poor’ response to missing children
Despite progress in some areas, the monitoring report said “significant weaknesses” remained in others, notably in the quality of services to children who go missing, and in the electronic systems to support managers in the Family Front Door.
It criticised Worcestershire’s “poor” response when children are at risk as a result of going missing, and said that the risks to these children, including those missing overnight, were “not adequately assessed”.
The report also highlighted that in July only 61% of children received a return home interview after going missing, and only 24% within 72 hours of their return. This compares to 100% of children receiving an interview in April 2017, 68% of them within 72 hours.
Also, the report said, children who go missing were not being offered return home interviews carried out by an independent person, as required by statutory guidance.
Other findings included:
- In almost all children’s cases seen by inspectors, parents’ and older children’s consent to referrals and to information sharing between agencies “is both appropriately considered and recorded. This is a significant improvement.”
- Health agencies had attended all child protection strategy discussions, a statutory expectation, since the start of September, compared to a low of 44% in July.
- Electronic case management and performance management systems for the Family Front Door were “not fit for purpose” and “do not provide sufficient ‘real-time’ information to support fully effective management oversight and workflow management”.
- In a “notable improvement”, most visits to children were being made within five days of a referral being made, the local authority’s standard.
‘An awful lot of work to do’
Councillor Andy Roberts, Worcestershire’s cabinet member for children and families, said: “I am pleased to see that the inspectors have seen some improvements but we have an awful lot of work still to do to get to the stage where are consistently delivering high quality services to children, young people and their families.
“Our priority continues to be to make sure that long term improvements are made. We remain absolutely committed to that and we have already allocated an extra £5.1 million into improving Children’s Social Care in Worcestershire this year.”
Following Doughty’s report, Essex council was formally appointed as Worcestershire’s ‘improvement partner’, and Doughty was also reappointed as commissioner to help develop an alternative delivery model for children’s services.
A review into alternative models has now begun, after a recommendation to voluntarily place Worcestershire’s children’s services into a different form was discussed at last month’s council cabinet meeting.