Looked-after children ‘unanimously unhappy’ about changes of social workers at ‘inadequate’ council

Ofsted monitoring visit highlights ‘deficits’ in care planning and assessment at Wirral, which is creating 80 new posts in children’s services to reduce caseloads

Photo: Konstantin Yuganov/Fotolia

Children looked after by Wirral council have “unanimously expressed unhappiness” about the number of changes of social workers and independent reviewing officers (IROs) they have experienced.

A report on an Ofsted monitoring visit said looked-after children were becoming ”increasingly unwilling to form trusting relationships” with members of staff ”when they cannot be sure how long they will be their social worker for”.

Negative impacts of staff turnover highlighted by young people included not being given advance notice of a new worker or who it would be, and that new social workers did not always understand their past or what life was like for them.

Education and health professionals also reported that social worker turnover was leading to problems in sharing information, such as in advising other agencies of placement changes or breakdowns.

Inspectors highlighted concerns with “deficits” in assessment and care planning, saying these had “exacerbated the already traumatic experiences” of children who had been in care for a long time.

Temporary staff

The monitoring visit in December 2017 was the fourth since Wirral’s children’s services were judged to be ‘inadequate’ in September 2016. At the time, Ofsted also said children were experiencing ”too many changes of worker”.

The number of looked-after children in Wirral increased by almost a fifth to 837 between the ‘inadequate’ inspection and December 2017.

A Wirral Council spokesperson said the authority was creating 80 new children’s services jobs, including 46 full-time equivalent social worker posts, as part of a £20 million investment.

“This will reduce caseloads so that social workers can spend more time with children and improve the quality of their practice,” the spokesperson added.

“However, this investment and scale of recruitment has inevitably led to changes in social workers for some children. Any unnecessary change in social worker or IRO is unacceptable and every effort is made to avoid this.

“In a small number of cases this change has had to happen quickly and some children have understandably been unhappy about the disruption this has caused. In the medium and longer terms we are confident that increasing capacity will pay off and be better for all our children.”

Wirral said its turnover rate of social workers in children’s services fell to 6.7% in 2017 from 7.9% in 2016. In addition, 37% of social worker posts are currently vacant and 35% are filled by temporary workers, though the major recruitment campaign is ongoing.

‘Signs of making progress’

Overall, Ofsted inspectors said that, “following a slow start”, Wirral was “beginning to show signs of making some progress” in improving services for looked-after children, “though there is still a great deal of work to be done”.

Ofsted said an increase in the number of social work staff and managers was “a welcome response to managing the increasing demands on the service, even though this has necessitated an increase in temporary staff”.

Although Wirral was making “considerable effort” to stabilise the workforce, “with some early signs of success”, in most cases tracked by inspectors, children had had two or three social workers and IROs in 2017, as well as a number of changes in social worker in previous years.

Assessment problems

Inspectors also said that the absence of up-to-date assessments for looked-after children was a “key shortfall”, and that this “blunts the focus, and undermines the effectiveness, of plans and interventions”.

These plans, in addition, do not always take account of all of their [children’s] needs and do not progress swiftly enough”, and it “is not always clear what outcomes are expected for children looked after from their care experience”.

Inspectors also said permanency was “not well understood” by most of the staff they spoke to, while drift in care planning had led to some children ending up in long-term placements “by default rather than by good planning”.

Although case recording was “generally up to date”, Wirral’s electronic case recording system was “not being used to its maximum”, and case files showed “variable managerial case oversight and staff supervision”.

Social workers also “vary in the extent to which they undertake and record direct, purposeful work with children”.

IRO strength

However, inspectors said increasing numbers of escalations by IROs “show more strength from this service in addressing drift, and this is positive”.

They also saw better compliance with some essential minimum requirements, including completing plans, convening essential meetings and recording casework.

Social workers “understand the need for children to have plans”, including personal education plans (PEPs), though only half of looked-after children had an up-to-date PEP in November 2017 and the quality of PEPs “remains variable”.

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5 Responses to Looked-after children ‘unanimously unhappy’ about changes of social workers at ‘inadequate’ council

  1. Ruth Mueller-Davies January 27, 2018 at 8:46 am #

    Social work is a very challenging and often frustrating profession.appart from a high caseload there is often a lack of supervision and resources as well as an ever increasing load of burocracy. And despite everything else there is still an attitude of blaming the Social worker for everything that goes wrong.
    A lot of my friends and colleagues have simply burned out, became ill or just gone into other jobs.
    The whole system needs to change and individuals need to be valued more whether it’s children,carers or social workers.

  2. Malcolm Shaw January 27, 2018 at 6:27 pm #

    Hello. Such information is valuable to kinship foster carers too…we have experienced changes of CSW two months ago, and SSW and visit supervising support within the ladt two weeks. Very unsettling for everyone…… all 3 are new appointees to Wirral BC.
    Can we sign up to your forum please? Malcolm and Monica

  3. Anita Singh January 28, 2018 at 3:14 am #

    Why does it have to take an inadequate inspection result and criticism from Ofsted before anything is ever done about the poor quality of services to children. It is high time for central government to address issues of inadequate staffing levels, high staff turnover primarily due to high caseloads and inadequate management from managers who are equally overloaded. The issues really need to be addressed properly rather than in this piecemeal manner, depending upon whether the LA has been able to get through an inspection or not. This problem exists virtually across the country in children’s services

  4. Phil Taylor January 29, 2018 at 5:45 pm #

    Wirral hasn’t been like this for years & I have been retired for some time, shocking!

    • Phil Taylor January 29, 2018 at 5:46 pm #

      Sorry HAS been like this for ages!