A mindfulness course for social workers at a previously ‘inadequate’ council proved “highly effective” in supporting and retaining social workers, Ofsted inspectors have said.
Somerset council – which has progressed from ‘inadequate’ to ‘requires improvement’ in a report published this week – had engineered a “positive shift in morale and culture” since the last inspection.
It had made teams smaller by increasing the number of social workers by 20%. The council said it had made more than 160 permanent social work appointments since Ofsted’s last inspection in 2015.
“The expanded role of consultant social workers is supporting and enhancing the skills of social workers. Caseloads are manageable for the majority of staff, with a target of 14 and a current average of 16, although a minority of social workers have a much higher caseload than this,” the watchdog found.
It added that staff were happy in Somerset, with an annual staff survey and the use of “emotional well-being initiatives” said to be demonstrating investment in the council’s workforce.
“A mindfulness course proved highly effective in improving staff support and retention,” the report stated.
Must increase senior team capacity
Ofsted praised good-quality direct work and the “persistent engagement of parents”, which meant social workers understood children’s experiences.
“Increasingly effective social work interventions, particularly by newly qualified social workers, are leading to improved outcomes for children and their families.”
As part of its improvements, Ofsted said the authority had successfully ensured basic practice standards were met.
It noted that the council recognised it must increase capacity in the senior leadership team to maintain and accelerate the current pace of change.
“While no children were found to be at immediate risk of harm during this inspection, the quality of practice remains variable and managers do not always challenge poor practice. Children’s assessments and plans remain inconsistent, and do not adequately capture children’s cultural and identity needs. Social workers do not update assessments regularly enough,” the report said.
Inspectors said the council needed to improve the timeliness and standards of social work practice relating to families in pre-proceedings, ensure scrutiny and oversight of practice provided by managers is effective and improve the quality and effectiveness of strategy discussions.
Leader of Somerset council, David Fothergill, said: “We have put a lot of resource and effort into this and these improvements are a tribute to our fantastic staff. Of course, safeguarding children isn’t just the council’s responsibility and we will be looking to continuing to improve the way that all the organisations in Somerset work together to achieve this.”