A council’s children’s services has been judged ‘inadequate’ by inspectors after a visit found “serious and widespread failures” and newly qualified social workers carrying out work “with little understanding and no guidance about what they were supposed to be doing”.
The report by Ofsted inspectors of Wakefield’s children’s services said there were “too few social workers to provide a safe service” with “significant capacity issues across the children’s services”.
“Many social workers have too high caseloads and are not able to complete assessments, provide support or do direct work to ensure that children have better lives. Social workers said to inspectors that they are ‘firefighting’ and responding to crises on a daily basis,” the report said.
It said the service had “deteriorated” since its last inspection in 2016 said it required improvement. Every element of the service was said to be ‘inadequate’ in the most recent inspection.
Inspectors identified “significant” deficits in the quality of basic social work practice across the service and found “fewer than half of assessments are being completed within local authority guidelines”.
In many cases, assessments were taking twice as long as the maximum statutory timeframe, inspectors found, and there were children throughout the service who had not been identified as being at risk.
There were high turnover and sickness rates due to the pressure on staff, creating a reliance on agency staff.
It said actions taken by senior leaders to increase staff to ensure all cases were allocated “has not addressed the problem sufficiently”.
‘Challenging task’ for new director
A newly appointed director of children’s services, appointed after a critical focused visit in February, had “quickly won the confidence of staff and external agencies” but faced a challenging task.
“Newly qualified staff are carrying cases well beyond their capability levels without support. Inspectors came across newly qualified social workers co-ordinating care proceedings and adoption work with little understanding and no guidance about what they were supposed to be doing.
“Social workers are too often unsupported when deciding how to progress cases, resulting in children not being safeguarded or not having their needs met in a timely manner,” the inspection found.
Inspectors acknowledged “some impressive social work support” and some families receiving a high quality service, but told the council to improve management oversight, the quality of social work practice and to recruit and retain a “sufficient number of experienced social workers, managers and senior managers”.
Responding to the report, council leaders said the service had “let down children and families” and that the report confirmed what the council already knew.
Peter Box, leader of the council, said: “It is clear that, for far too long, we had a system unable to support frontline social workers, too few managers to supervise and support, and not enough social workers to meet the needs of our children.”
A £1 million package of funding to drive the council’s action plan has been made available, and the service’s base budget has been increased by £3.5 million, the council said.
Merran McRae, the council’s chief executive, said it had “immediately” begun to tackle the concerns.
“A team of highly-experienced, external professionals have been recruited and are carrying out a rapid review of every child in our care,” McRae said.
She added: “In the last five months our children’s services have already seen some major changes. We already have more team managers and service managers on the ground. This management is absolutely critical to support social workers – a point clearly made by Ofsted – and we are also rapidly filling other vacancies.”