An ‘inadequate’ children’s service where some social work caseloads exceed 50 children has been criticised by Ofsted for “insufficient progress” causing “delays in children in need and children in need of protection having their needs identified and addressed”.
Inspectors said while there was “some effective social work practice” happening in Bradford council’s children’s services, there was “weaknesses in management grip of social work practice at all levels”.
“Quality assurance is not focused on improving learning across the workforce. The lack of urgency to recruit to permanent social work posts is resulting in inconsistent services to children and their families,” the report published this month said.
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Inspectors said caseloads varied “from small numbers to over 50 children” and, where caseloads were high, it was impacting on social workers’ ability to deliver good-quality social work for all children.
While senior managers were monitoring the size of caseloads and had taken action to reduce them, the watchdog said it could not see the impact.
Ofsted added there had been “a decline in some aspects of the front door services” since Bradford was rated ‘inadequate’ in 2018.
“Too many children are being inappropriately referred to social care by other agencies. This is seriously impacting on the capability of the front door team to respond to contacts and referrals in a timely way,” the report said.
Not enough social workers
While there had been investment to address the problems caused by “insufficient numbers of social workers and inconsistent and weak management”, recruitment was still a challenge.
“Senior leaders have focused tenaciously on employing additional agency and temporary staff and this has increased workforce capacity. However, there have been issues about the quality of the work of some of those staff and too many have been leaving at short notice, impacting negatively on children’s lives.
“There have been delays in recruitment to permanent social work and management posts due to overly bureaucratic processes within the wider council, although recruitment to these posts is now proceeding,” inspectors said.
While an auditing programme had been introduced to try and improve practice, this was not yet being felt on the ground, where “most assessments were poor, with common weaknesses, including the failure to address the needs of all the children in a family, and not always recognising risk”.
“Inspectors also saw in some cases that social workers were intrusively carrying out unnecessary assessments on children and involving families with social care, due to poor quality evaluation of information at the front door,” the report said.
Social work managers were dispensing with the consent of parents on “too many occasions” without there being over-riding child protection concerns. This was highlighted in September 2018, inspectors said, and the director of children’s services responded in this inspection by taking steps to review the practice.
Despite the challenges, “the vast majority of social workers who met with inspectors were very positive about working for Bradford”.
“They spoke highly about support from their team colleagues and their access to a good range of training. They also reported being kept informed and involved in service developments by the DCS, including regular large-scale meetings with staff, emailed staff briefings and personal recognition of good practice. They fully understood current weaknesses in the service and were committed to the goal of improving practice for the children of Bradford,” Ofsted found.
Mark Douglas, strategic director of children’s services, said: “It is important to stress that Ofsted found that urgent child protection concerns are recognised with the right action being taken and no child was found to be unsafe. But we know that the social care services we deliver to vulnerable children are not at the level they need to be.
“While there has been some improvement there is a huge amount still to do. We know the areas we need to change and the actions we need to take to improve. We are working with effort and determination to get there.”
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