An ‘inadequate’ children’s services isn’t improving fast enough as it struggles to recruit social workers and keep caseloads down, an Ofsted monitoring visit has found.
In the inspection of the service for looked after children at Tameside council, Ofsted found the quality of practice, supervision, management oversight and challenge by independent reviewing officers required “significant improvement”.
More broadly Ofsted branded Tameside’s difficulty to recruit a stable workforce as its “biggest challenge”. Ofsted acknowledged that leaders recognised this, and had made progress in appointing 17 people, however 41% of staff were still agency workers.
“The local authority has taken action to address the pace of improvement and has strengthened the management of the service, although in the short term this has resulted in a period of instability for the service, with a team manager, practice managers and a number of social workers leaving,” the report found.
Staff turnover had meant high caseloads and children experiencing changes of social worker, which had impacted on the quality of care planning, Ofsted said.
“The average caseload at the monitoring visit was 18.5; however, some social workers reported having caseloads of 26 to 28. Senior managers are aware of the range of caseloads. Caseloads have been reducing but continue to remain too high for some social workers.”
Social workers told inspectors they “did not have the capacity to do life story work” after Ofsted criticised the lack of it in some cases.
Young people in the service had also expressed concerned about “upcoming changes in senior management” and were “anxious that these would bring more changes again”.
“Senior leaders are aware of the impact of the impending changes at senior management level and have transition plans in place to ensure there is a smooth handover.
“If these are successful, the local authority may be able to expedite the pace of improvement that is needed,” inspectors concluded.
Responding to the report, a spokesperson for Tameside council said it accepted Ofsted’s findings and were pleased for recognition of some of the progress that had been made.
“We will use their monitoring visit of our service for looked after children as a focus of our ongoing improvement work. Ofsted have once again acknowledged we have an accurate understanding or ourselves, the challenges we face and what we need to do to improve further,” the spokesperson said.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is social worker recruitment, which is also a regional and national issue. Ofsted recognise we are making every effort to recruit permanent staff with the relevant skills and experience to support children and this is now showing some positive results. This remains at the top of our key priorities,” they added.
“We know there remains significant work to do to ensure children are supported in the best way possible and we remain unwavering in our commitment to deliver the improvement needed to make this happen.”