Social workers have high caseloads, are working on evenings and weekends and in some case haven’t had supervision for “months”, an Ofsted inspection of Wakefield children’s services has found.
The focused visit of the council’s front door services, published last week, said there were “significant gaps in frontline management and social work staffing throughout the service”.
“A significant number of social workers who spoke to inspectors said their morale is low and that they regularly work evenings and weekends. There are high sickness rates, and some workers state that there are increasing numbers of social workers leaving to work elsewhere.”
Ofsted said the services faced “significant challenges” managing the volume of work and that the service and partner agencies did not agree on thresholds.
“Since December 2017, the response time in actioning referrals within one working day has improved from 43% to 82%. However, this has resulted in the number of referrals being passed to the struggling social work locality teams doubling: from 66 per week at the beginning of January to 130 in the week prior to the focused visit.”
Because of demand there was a high number of unallocated cases and delayed assessments.
“Inspectors raised issues in about 10% of the cases they looked at and found that the quality of recordings was so poor in some instances that it was not possible to identify what work had been undertaken,” inspectors said.
They also heard how some social workers had gone “months” between supervision meetings.
Senior managers and the council were aware of the issues and had taken “some positive steps” to address the concerns – 29 agency staff had been recruited to try and address staffing issues, and the service had put on training and supervision for all workers. However due to work pressures social workers had been unable to attend.
Inspectors said the council should prioritise fixing delays in case allocation which had left children at risk of harm and improving management oversight and social work recording.
It added: “There needs to be a sufficient number of experienced social workers, managers and senior managers, who in turn need to be suitably deployed to ensure a robust social work response to children and families.”
Merran McRae, chief executive of Wakefield Council, said: “It is absolutely clear that we must improve some key areas of this service and that we must do it quickly.
The council had allocated £1 million to drive its transformation action plan and invested an extra £3.5 million into the budget of children’s services, she said. McRae added that there was new leadership in children’s services and the council had developed a partnership with North Yorkshire’s children’s services to guide improvements and is learning best practice from Leeds.
“The council has been upfront and honest about the challenges we are facing and the Ofsted inspectors have acknowledged our openness. The inspectors know that we have plans in place to address the concerns,” she said.
“Our frontline social care teams are fully committed to providing the best service they can. Their need for more support and the need for more social workers on the ground is one of the key issues we are focussed on tackling as swiftly as possible.”