A monitoring visit by Ofsted to an ‘inadequate’-rated London borough has found “substantial” improvements to multi-agency and social work practice.
In their second return to Tower Hamlets children’s services since identifying “widespread and serious failings” at the council in spring 2017, inspectors found a “noteworthy change in frontline social work culture”.
The visit focused on Tower Hamlets’ arrangements for the help and protection of vulnerable adolescents. The 2017 inspection criticised a culture of “drift and delay”, leaving young people at risk of being drawn into gang activity – which at the time of the monitoring visit included a spate of incidents involving knives.
The borough has set a target of achieving a ‘good’ rating by 2019.
Tower Hamlets’ multi-agency safeguarding relationships had previously been “underdeveloped”, Ofsted said, but senior leaders were now implementing a revised early help strategy to address weak practice.
The council’s creation of a “dedicated, authoritative” and co-located multi-agency exploitation team was also singled out for praise.
“The exploitation team has an increased awareness of the multiple and overlapping risks to all children,” Ofsted said. “Although very recently established (March 2018), these alternative methods of multi-agency interventions and engagement with young people are having a positive impact.”
Inspectors noted a “renewed focus” on children as victims of exploitation rather than as criminals. “Reliable and effective” intelligence gathering was helping to disrupt the activities of perpetrators of exploitation, they said, and mitigating escalation of gang-related activities.
“Social workers now have a better understanding of children’s lived experience,” Ofsted added. “Together with partner agencies, they are increasingly diligent in their attempts to work with and support these young people and their brothers and sisters.”
‘Tackling historic problems’
John Biggs, the mayor of Tower Hamlets, said the council was now improving its children’s services at a “rapid rate”.
“Our social workers and all staff working on the improvements are doing great work to tackle historic problems with the service, and deliver modern services with our partners,” Biggs said. “There is still much work to do to make a lasting change in Tower Hamlets but this is good news, and I am proud of our staff, and those who have supported us.”
Danny Hassell, the cabinet member for children, schools and young people, added that Tower Hamlets was now “focusing on recruiting more permanent staff, and will be introducing further incentives to recruit and develop highly skilled social workers”.
The council’s reliance on high numbers of agency workers, especially in assessment and intervention teams, was identified by Ofsted as an ongoing challenge. However there had been “some success” in persuading agency workers to go permanent.
Inspectors also cautioned that improvements at Tower Hamlets were a “very recent” development and that overall, social work practice remained “variable”.
‘Clear direction’ at Dudley
In another broadly positive monitoring visit report published at the end of May, inspectors evaluated early help services at Dudley council, which received an ‘inadequate’ judgment in April 2016.
Last year Sue Butcher, the council’s chief officer for children’s services, told Community Care it was focusing on “doing the basics better”, an approach that appeared to be delivering gains in terms of lower caseloads and reduced staff turnover.
Ofsted’s evaluation – its sixth monitoring visit – included visiting the West Midlands authority’s multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) as well as two out of five of its family centre hubs. It found services had improved since inspectors’ previous visit and that children were better able to access them.
Within the MASH, Ofsted said children’s needs were being identified “promptly” and that management oversight was of a “high quality and [setting] a clear direction for next steps”.
Inspectors found thresholds were well understood and consistently applied throughout the MASH and early help service. They praised the “tenacious” engagement work of staff, especially with fathers, but found direct work with children, and also supervision, could be more consistent.
Angus Lees, Dudley’s cabinet member for children’s services, said the the monitoring visit report demonstrated things were heading in the “right direction”.
“I’m particularly pleased it makes reference to the good work of the staff we have working hard in our family centres to ensure we identify quickly the children in our borough who most need help,” Lees said.
Dudley council is due to have one more monitoring visit in August, before a full inspection later this year.