A council where nearly 60% of social work staff were agency workers or in their assessed and supported first year of employment (ASYE) has been rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.
Inspectors said a lack of experienced social workers in Sandwell, as well as significant turnover, meant “the overall quality of work is poor and that relationships between children and their social workers are often fragmented”.
In a report published today, Ofsted said the number of children on child protection plans had risen by 71% since June 2017 due to better recognition of risk, fewer children’s plans ending after three months and better reviews of chid in need cases which were escalated to child protection.
This rise however meant “caseloads remain high” despite the council recruiting more social workers. Practitioners were found to not have have sufficient time to deliver good-quality work or attend training to develop practice.
The government took the decision to remove children’s services from the council’s control in October 2016, and Sandwell said its new independent children’s trust will launch this April.
Ofsted said assessments in Sandwell were of “poor quality” and not updated in accordance with a local authority’s policy or when a child’s circumstances change. Risk was not “rigorously analysed” and assessments do not provide “a sense of the child or an understanding of children’s lived experiences”.
“Children identified as at risk of harm wait too long for action to be taken. Not all the recommendations from the 2015 inspection have been progressed by the local authority, and basic social work practice is not of a good enough standard.
“This poor practice is characterised by insufficient managerial oversight and challenge from managers and IROs regarding assessments, plans and social work activity,” the report said.
New senior leadership
Inspectors did find elements of improvement following the appointment of a new senior leadership team. There was an increased focus on staff support through additional training programmes, but this was “yet to have significant impact on practice standards”.
“Since their appointment, senior leaders have worked hard to regain a management grip on services. However, there has been insufficient time for them to create services in which social work practice can flourish, and most actions set out in the improvement plan are not yet achieved,” the report said.
Simon Hackett, cabinet member for children’s services, said the whole council was disappointed with the outcome of the inspection but made “no excuses”.
“A huge amount of work has gone into improving children’s services so it was good to receive positive feedback about the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub, early help, and getting thresholds right.
“While it’s clear that there is much more work to do, Ofsted also recognised the beginning of change in the service that will make sure Sandwell Children’s Trust has the foundations in place to succeed,” he added.
Hackett said the trust was “the future” and would give services “a fresh start and the opportunity to achieve real change”.