Ofsted has highlighted a London borough’s “prompt action” to deal with children’s services staffing issues, in a positive inspection report published last week.
In visits to Enfield council during January and February, inspectors found senior leaders had been alive to the impact rising caseloads were having on child protection practice in some areas, notably the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) and frontline teams.
Concerns were raised during a focused visit by Ofsted in September 2018. But, the regulator noted, leaders had by then already agreed to fund additional staffing capacity to get things back on track.
“Following the [focused] visit, leaders took prompt action to appropriately increase resources and management oversight in the MASH and to develop the early help triage,” inspectors said. “This has resulted in a better understanding and application of statutory thresholds to safeguard children who need help and protection.”
In general, senior managers at Enfield “know their services and have a clear understanding of strengths and areas for further development”, Ofsted said. “Strong, corporate and cross-party political support and targeted investment have enabled leaders to manage increasing demand and target areas for development, with resources such as the introduction of increasingly effective practice leads, to ensure children’s needs are a top priority.”
The council’s actions helped it attain across-the-board ‘good’ scores from Ofsted, with services for children progressing from the ‘requires improvement’ achieved at the last full inspection in 2015. Other practice areas maintained their ‘good’ grades.
‘Better quality referrals’
Inspectors said that the extra management capacity in the MASH, coupled with a comprehensive audit of cases, meant the “vast majority” of children in Enfield now received a timely multi-agency response to their needs.
“Ongoing work with partner agencies is resulting in better quality referrals, and the co-location of police and health partners is adding value to decision-making in the MASH,” Ofsted said.
Most child protection enquiries were well supported by multi-agency information-sharing, with assessments demonstrating sound understanding of different children’s needs, inspectors added.
“Children in Enfield benefit from strong strategic partnerships and collaborative working to protect them from harm from contextual safeguarding risks,” the report went on. “Practitioners are alert to and appropriately recognise indicators of child exploitation and gang affiliation. Effective joint-working arrangements, for example the child sexual exploitation and prevention team, ensure timely and effective help and support, which reduce risk and prevent further harm.”
Nonetheless, inspectors found a number of areas within child protection services in which more consistency could be achieved.
There was still some variability in initial threshold decisions, Ofsted said. Child in need plans were “not yet consistently sharp or child-focused, or do not contain clear contingency plans that are updated as children’s circumstances change”.
Meanwhile records did not accurately reflect the quality of supervision that social workers said they received from their “proactive, visible, supportive” managers.
Elsewhere, strong services for children in care and care leavers were found to have been maintained. “Most children live with matched carers who provide a good range of activities and opportunities that enable them to enjoy life, improve their progress and promote a rounded childhood,” Ofsted said.
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children received effective multi-agency support, inspectors observed, with care taken as to where children were settled.
“This careful consideration informs good-quality subsequent assessments, plans and placements to meet their needs,” the inspection report said.
Attention to the diverse needs of children and young people fed into social work practice, Ofsted found, with “clear” awareness being demonstrated of discrimination individuals might face.
“Social workers have a thorough understanding of the children they work with, and are passionate about improving outcomes for them,” the report said. “Inspectors saw sensitive, creative examples of direct work with children and young people to help them to understand their individual circumstances and participate in their own planning.”
As with child protection services, inspectors noted a few areas of uneven practice that could be improved further. These included around permanence matches for children in long-term foster care, and communication with other local authorities in which some children were placed.
Achilleas Georgiou, Enfield’s cabinet member for children’s services said the report was “a testament to the hard work and dedication of each and every person working with and for children in Enfield council”.
Georgiou added: “We are determined to give every child in our borough the opportunity to reach their potential and I am enormously proud that Ofsted have recognised the tremendous work staff have been doing to ensure we achieve that aim.”