Ofsted praises council for improving social work practice despite staff turnover concerns

Inspectors also note growing influence of independent reviewing officers in improving outcomes for children in Dudley

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Improving social work practice has been praised in an ‘inadequate’-rated children’s service.

In a monitoring inspection of children’s services in Dudley, Ofsted said the pace of change had been “swift” in some areas of practice, and the council was successfully applying an “effective model of social work practice”.

“The impact is positive and the quality of work to help and protect children has improved,” the report said.

Dudley’s children’s services were rated ‘inadequate’ by inspectors in 2016, but improvements have been made since, and a government-appointed commissioner said last year the services should not be removed from council control.

This latest Ofsted report said: “Overall, social work practice continues to improve. Social workers are committed to the children they work with, and many social workers spend time getting to know their children well. Social workers use a number of direct work tools effectively to understand children and, as a result, children’s views are better understood and their plans are increasingly more reflective of their needs.”

Independent reviewing officers

The report also said there had been “significant improvement” in the impact of independent reviewing officers.

“They now offer appropriate support and challenge to social workers, team managers and senior managers. Most disputes are resolved at an informal level, and this is resulting in improved outcomes for children. Team managers and social workers accept child-focused constructive feedback and challenge from IROs, which is a positive cultural shift in the workforce,” the report said.

Despite improvements, there were still concerns over staff turnover, as just under a third of children’s social workers were agency staff.

“The recruitment and retention of team managers remain particularly challenging, and this means that in a small number of children’s cases management oversight and decision-making are not consistently effective or timely. As a result, planning for these children is not as robust as it needs to be.”

‘Right direction’

Councillor Anne Millward, Dudley’s cabinet member for children’s services, said the report “demonstrates we are continuing to move in the right direction to transform services”.

She added: “Since the inspection last year, we have worked extremely hard to make real changes.  We are pleased inspectors have recognised the dedication and commitment of staff, and the positive and supportive management culture which are together helping to ensure children are safe and receiving appropriate care and support.

“Although we are making positive steps, we will not rest on our laurels. We know there are still areas where improvements need to be made and we have plans in place to address these as we move forward.”

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