The Ofsted Interview: ‘For the period of time they’re with us, agency staff are our staff’

How one council has made improvements despite the ongoing challenge of workforce stability

Significant improvements were made in the delivery of children’s services at Dudley council, according to Ofsted inspectors when the council was visited towards the end of 2018.

“Areas of service identified as inadequate in the last inspection have been turned around and now deliver better quality and more focused and child-centred practice. In particular, this has resulted in good quality planning for children in care and better long-term outcomes for them,” said Ofsted in its latest inspection report of Dudley council children’s services, published at the end of last year.

The council, deemed ‘requires improvement’ in an Ofsted inspection report towards the end of last year, was praised for its developments in its multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) and its developments in services for children in care and care leavers.

But challenges remain as high staff turnover has impacted negatively on service delivery in some areas, said the watchdog, which noted high numbers of agency staff at the council – though some have worked at Dudley for a long time. Inspectors also judged that social workers are “not always benefiting” from supportive supervision.

In the latest episode of Community Care’s The Ofsted Interview podcast series, Martin Samuels, strategic director of people at Dudley council, and Sue Butcher, chief officer for children’s services, talk to us about how the council is trying to avoid the “trap” of seeing a higher proportion of agency staff as “a problem” in its bid to addressing workforce stability.

Meanwhile we hear about the service’s dedication to restorative practice and how the rigour of independent reviewing officer oversight has been a core contributor to the improvement to services for children in care.

Listen to Samuels and Butcher talk to Community Care about how the service intends to build more on reflective supervision and how it is approaching workforce stability, below or subscribe to the series on iTunes, and read our quick table for the key findings from Ofsted’s inspection.


Highlights from the Ofsted inspection: Dudley council

Area of service Ofsted inspection findings 2018
The experience and progress of children who need help and protection Requires improvement: Thresholds are well understood and applied in most cases and consent is generally sought or is dispensed with appropriately. Child protection concerns are quickly identified and responded to. Strategy meetings are appropriately called and well attended by MASH partners.
The experience and progress of children who need help and protection Requires improvement: The last inspection recommended that there should be a more focused approach to issues of neglect. In response, the local authority introduced the use of the graded care profile tool to measure progress in such cases. As yet, it is not fully embedded in social work practice. Some use of the tool was seen in early help cases, but it was not used effectively to measure progress or inform action plans. No evidence was seen of this resulting in delays for children, but this remains a risk.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers Good: Management oversight is regular and influential in helping social workers progress care plans and reflect on difficult issues for children, such as their contact arrangements. Clear actions and timescales are set for further work. Recording is clear.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers Good: Life-story books compiled by a dedicated life worker in the adoption service are of a high standard. However, those started by children in care teams are not always timely or of the same standard. Adopted children are provided with clear but sensitively written later life letters to help them understand the circumstances that led to their being adopted.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families Good: The local authority and partners have been responsive to the risks associated with criminal exploitation, gang affiliations and serious youth violence. Several initiatives have been put in place to manage risk. These include a multi-agency risk assessment panel looking at individual cases and the targeting of young people through a prevention project going round schools in parts of the borough where it is known that gang activity is prominent.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families Good: To address the need for further improvement and in an effort to make Dudley an attractive place to work, managers have strengthened the structure of children’s services with the creation of the Centre for Professional Practice. This centre ensures a positive first experience of social work for newly qualified staff, many of whom stay on to work in Dudley.
Overall effectiveness Requires improvement: Significant progress has been made in many areas of children’s services in Dudley since the last inspection in 2016. Effective work by senior management and staff, together with commitment and investment by political leaders, has led to improved responses to the needs of children and families. As a result, outcomes for many children and their families are better
Overall effectiveness Requires improvement: Some challenges remain, and there are areas of service that require further improvement. A high turnover of staff has had a detrimental impact on the quality of practice, particularly in assessment teams.

One Response to The Ofsted Interview: ‘For the period of time they’re with us, agency staff are our staff’

  1. Eboni February 25, 2019 at 3:01 pm #

    Very heartening comments which should be echoed across the UK.

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