Gloucestershire council is to increase its budget for vulnerable children by almost 30% as it deals with increased demand for services and the fallout from a poor Ofsted result following a monitoring inspection.
The council will spend an extra £3.9 million on its children’s safeguarding service in 2018-19. Its medium-term financial strategy states this will “ensure it is fit for purpose, supports practitioners in delivering best practice and is market competitive to attract staff”.
This will also “support a revised career structure and allow nationally accepted caseloads for social workers”.
The council will also spend an extra £1.1 million on implementing an improvement plan after Ofsted judged its children’s services to be ‘inadequate’ in 2017. Its total spend on services for vulnerable children will increase by 28.4%, from £57.4 million to £73.7 million.
The news comes as an Ofsted monitoring visit to Gloucestershire, the second since the ‘inadequate’ judgment, found that the pace of change in children’s services “remains too slow”.
Although senior leaders had implemented improvement frameworks supported by “significant financial investment and additional resource”, children in need of help and protection “continue to experience delay at every point of their involvement with children’s services”.
The report said some children remained in situations of unassessed risk for too long, and others experience chronic neglect or continue to be exposed to risk “without effective action being taken to protect them”, particularly those young people experiencing or at risk of sexual exploitation.
Gloucestershire had been successful, though, in recruiting suitably qualified and experienced social workers and managers, and most social workers had “manageable caseloads”.
But in some parts of the service social workers “do not always have the level of skills and experience required to provide effective interventions for children’s complex needs”.
While managerial oversight of practice and staff supervision was regular, managers “are not yet providing staff with sufficient challenge or direction and too often fail to address deficits in practice”.
As part of its improvement plan, Gloucestershire has appointed a new permanent director of children’s services, Chris Spencer, who will take up the role on 5 March. He has held director positions at councils including Redbridge, Hillingdon and Slough.
Councillor Richard Boyles, Gloucestershire’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Having a permanent director in place will bring stability to the service and help us to make the changes we need to make sure vulnerable children are protected here in Gloucestershire.”
He said the council’s “biggest concern” was that the pace of improvement was still too slow and that children continued to experience delays.
“We also know social work practice is inconsistent, but we are addressing these concerns.”
Gloucestershire’s medium-term financial strategy said the council had seen a 17% increase in referrals to children’s social care over the past year and a 35% increase in the number of children subject to a child protection plan.
Its looked-after children population is forecast to reach almost 700 by March. One reason for this is an improvement in practice and assessment from a situation where thresholds have been “poor and inconsistently applied”.
It will use the extra funding to recruit more social workers to manage demand, recruit and retain experienced and qualified social workers through a revised career progression pathway, develop smaller teams to support quality of practice and decision making, and invest in extra administrative support so social workers can focus on direct work with families.
The council will also apply a 2% adult social care precept, which specifically funds adults’ services, to its council tax in 2018-19, on top of a basic 2.49% rise. It will use the increase to meet costs of implementing the Care Act 2014, as well as the impact of demographic changes and cost pressures including the National Living Wage.
The budget said demographic changes “indicated a rising demand for support from people with increasingly complex needs that requires the council to better manage and respond to demand”.