Practice oversight driving progress at ‘inadequate’ county, Ofsted finds

Monitoring visit finds Gloucestershire council developing 'environment where social work may flourish' but still facing recruitment challenges

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Increased oversight of social workers’ decision-making, enabled by creating smaller teams, is helping an ‘inadequate’-rated county improve children’s situations, Ofsted has found.

In their fourth monitoring visit since finding Gloucestershire council’s children’s services inadequate in February 2017, inspectors focused on help and protection services.

They concluded the building blocks were in place for creating “an environment in which good social work practice may flourish”.

Reconfigured teams

Gloucestershire’s reconfiguration of team structures was “increasing management capacity to improve the effectiveness of social work practice and performance, as well as management availability to staff,” inspectors said.

Most social workers were now in charge of “manageable” caseloads, Ofsted said, with frontline staff reporting good morale and a sense of being well supported in their jobs.

“The local authority has addressed a large backlog of unallocated cases and regularly risk-assesses the circumstances of the small number of children who wait a short time for a named social worker,” inspectors added.

Ofsted also found Gloucestershire’s recently set-up multi-agency safeguarding hub had made an impact, with decisions being made more quickly than previously.

Churn challenges

But despite progress being made, inspectors identified a number of ongoing issues at the local authority.

Staffing churn continued to pose a major challenge to service quality, with the “absence of a stable permanent workforce” causing too many children to experience detrimental switches in social worker.

“Furthermore, despite an extensive training programme, frequent staff turnover impacts on the local authority’s ability to ensure all social workers are equipped with the skills they need to deliver effective practice and improve children’s circumstances,” the report added.

Inconsistent casework

Inspectors also found that casework continued to be patchy, with child protection procedures not always followed and thresholds applied inconsistently.

Where practice was audited, Ofsted noted that neither social workers and managers nor children and families were properly plugged into the process.

“This limits opportunities for social workers and managers to learn from the experiences of parents and children and to reflect on and improve their practice,” Ofsted said. “Consequently, auditing of casework is not yet having an impact on practice improvement.”

Richard Boyles, Gloucestershire council’s cabinet member for children and young people, described the report as demonstrating that the county’s children’s services had “turned a corner”.

“The team has worked incredibly hard to increase the speed in which we are changing the way we work to make a positive difference to vulnerable children,” he said. “We are not complacent though; we know there is more work to be done to make sure improvements are consistent across children’s services.”

Boyles added that recruitment of social workers was a key focus.

‘More urgency’ needed at Croydon

In another recent monitoring visit, also the authority’s fourth since an ‘inadequate’ verdict from Ofsted, Croydon council was likewise found to be improving.

The visit, which focused on progress made for children in care, found that the “core components of effective social work practice” were in place, with thresholds being applied correctly and social workers showing a “high degree” of commitment.

But Ofsted warned that some children were still experiencing drift and delay in securing permanence arrangements, with “more urgency” needed in Croydon’s practice.

“Senior managers need to ensure that progress is consistent for all children and at a pace that meets each child’s needs,” inspectors said.

Alisa Flemming, Croydon’s cabinet member for children, young people and learning, said: “As is to be expected at this stage in our improvement journey, significant work is still required.”

She added: “We absolutely want all our children and young people to receive high-quality services, and share inspectors’ views that we need to ensure this happens more consistently in all service areas.”

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