A children’s trust has been praised by Ofsted for an ‘ambitious’ improvement plan.
In its first monitoring visit since being established in April 2018, Sandwell Children’s Trust has been noted by inspectors as bringing a “renewed energy and determination to improve services for children and families”.
Sandwell council was deemed ‘inadequate’ in its last Ofsted inspection in January 2018. Since the establishment of the trust, there have been “proactive” steps to develop a performance framework, including weekly performance meetings with team managers and group heads, inspectors said. Staff were said to be “mostly positive about the ongoing scrutiny of their work and recognising the impact on children is the trust’s starting point”.
Ofsted noted that the trust had also been “swift to act” when performance data highlighted concerns, citing the example of a sharp rise in the number of child protection investigations meaning that its improvement partner, Doncaster Children’s Trust, completed diagnostic work leading to practice changes and a reduction in the number of investigations.
The trust is still developing its audit tool, which is highlighting that most cases are “not yet good”.
The instability of the workforce remained a “long-standing” barrier to improvement, inspectors said, highlighting that nearly one third were agency or interim staff. Caseloads were said to be too high, and assessments were said to not be routinely updated when children’s circumstances change. Managers were said to not be providing social workers with clear direction and timescales, while independent reviewing officers were not escalating concerns when assessments were not completed.
But Ofsted said: “The trust recognises that action is required to combat this and is developing a renewed offer to social workers to attract and retain staff. [It] is also reviewing its structure and staffing levels to ensure manageable caseloads and strengthened management support. Social workers and team managers feel positive about the changes made and the introduction of the trust.”
Practice too variable
Meanwhile in a separate monitoring visit of its looked after children’s service, Wirral council was found to show “evidence of progress” through new policies and procedures. Ofsted judged however that more needed to be done to improve social work practice to ensure all looked after children received a good service.
“Some assessments of their needs are insufficiently detailed and lack analysis, resulting in plans that do not address all their needs, including those arising from historical abuse and/or neglect.
“Recently introduced arrangements to oversee children at risk of child sexual exploitation are robust. However, practice is too variable and some children at risk of child sexual exploitation need better support and protection.”
However, the recognition that improved oversight is needed has meant the introduction of daily child sexual exploitation multi-disciplinary meetings.
“It is a strength that each meeting considers all those who have gone missing in the previous 24 hours. Actions are clear, ascribed and reported on at the next meeting, ensuring that progress is swift.
“While these new arrangements are positive, the local authority must also ensure that social work practice improves to support and protect individual children who are deemed to be at risk of child sexual exploitation.”