Ofsted criticises council where some social workers have caseloads of over 50

Monitoring visit to 'inadequate' council finds services not improving fast enough, with Ofsted reporting 'weaknesses in management grip of social work practice at all levels'

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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.

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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11 Responses to Ofsted criticises council where some social workers have caseloads of over 50

  1. Opal Lady July 15, 2019 at 5:04 pm #

    This is nothing new. It happens all over the UK, especially for us agency workers (who allegedly have extra arms, legs and powers)?!

    Incompetent TM’s (of which there are plenty) never ever learn. They just want to offload and play the ‘blame game’ when it all goes wrong/assessments and visits (unsurprisingly) go out of timescale!

    It is not difficult to predict given the ‘throughput’ of sw’s/how we are treated!

    This is certainly the case in the west Midlands where they struggle to retain staff. Furthermore, the capping of rates does services no favours at all, along with the ‘reputation’ which speaks for itself!

    On a positive note, a colleague and myself are now working for one of the top 3 LA’s and we are treated with respect, recognition and not ‘excessively dumped on’ by incompetent ‘Team Managers’ who couldn’t practise as a social worker if their lives depended on it!

    • HandsomeSw July 15, 2019 at 6:03 pm #

      May I ask which LA your working for as I’m considering going agency.

  2. sw July 16, 2019 at 1:52 pm #

    Some of the incompetent managers to shift their blame on the social workers refer them to HCPC.

    There is so much hostility and aggression within the organisation there is no scope for social workers to do their best.

    Managers are driven by self interest and management by the figures to project the local authority in positive light, especially by Ofsted.

    When Lincolnshire was deemed good in 2014, people was astounded unsure if that positive report was about that local authority. Certainly the higher management there knows what to project to the Ofsted and Ofsted also perhaps would not question those areas that shouldn’t be visited.

  3. Dr khizar July 16, 2019 at 5:50 pm #

    I completely agree that some old social worker at management and higher level are incompetent to work as social workers and they are managing teams that is why overall morale is low among social workers.

  4. Janet Ryalls July 16, 2019 at 6:41 pm #

    I’ve been doing this job for nearly 20 years all I can say is please change the record, it’s the same song, same tune. No one is brave enough to engage in change on a collective basis. To make change, you have to change first. It’s not negativity I’m afraid it’s reality, no use pointing to the elephant in the room if it’s just going to sit there. I’m coming to the end of my career, and I’m glad. I was previously privileged to work with people not inanimate objects. Social work is now an administrative role not a human one. I live in the hope it changes for the better.

  5. Anon July 16, 2019 at 7:23 pm #

    Wonder how it affects these families: “Social work managers were dispensing with the consent of parents on” too many occasions” without there being over-riding child protection concerns” and “social workers were intrusively carrying out unnecessary assessments on children….”? Do the families receive compensation?

    • Loiner July 17, 2019 at 11:19 am #

      It harms children and families and that harm is lifelong with families blamed

  6. K lee July 17, 2019 at 8:47 am #

    Totally agree with Opal lady. After 2 years as a locum social worker with a local authority, holding 53 cases one time, I have left social work after 17 year career. The last manager refused to provide a reference.
    Sadly due to financial constraints, sufficient support is not given to rehabilitate families and children’s cases are rushed into court. I fear the long term outcomes for these children, who should be at home and not in foster care.

  7. Disillusioned July 19, 2019 at 11:47 am #

    The problems that have risen is because of incompetent management.

  8. Peter Endersby July 20, 2019 at 7:11 am #

    I recently worked work alongside SWs in this authority and it is definitely a mixed bag. Some are very proactive, engaged and proffesional but others seem out of their depth and unprepared. What I cannot understand is this chronic inconsistency, the inability to communicate with other agencies and an initial risk assessment regime which seems so inconsistent leading many of those referring wondering why they bothered. This is very dangerous and threatens the duty to refer. Vulnerable children and their families are at the mercy of each teams approach. It is a lottery.

    Many social workers are hard to reach and are openly dismissive of referrals from other professionals, many of whom know the families and children far better and are well aware of the risks. Some social workers seem to think they have a papal approach to the truth and an almost divine understanding of families and their children based on a couple of visits. Schools work with more families and children everyday they are not stupid, over sensitive or unaware of risk. Being told it is the schools problem is very common phrase.

    The recent inspection has had some teams running for cover and trying to protect themselves. This is a natural but unprofessional response and amounts to saving ones own skin and avoiding challenge and risk.

    Serious Case Reviews are worthless, the consistent bleating of, ‘lessons will be learned’ goes unhindered. It is cynical ploy to draw an imaginary line under these cases. They might as well say , ‘there is nothing to see here move on… oh and lessons will definitely be learned’.

    Authorities and teams all think that they and they alone are dealing with a unique group of people in their area. Teams in the same area work very differently and have different priorities. One family on one street will have a different response to another on a neighbouring street. Other professionals who work alongside social care look on baffled. We wonder what makes vulnerability so difficult to pin down leading to this epidemic of exceptionalism.

    If you analyise many EHCPs you will notice a common factor and that is the absence of any meaningful support from social care, where they are actively involved with the child’s family. I am not sure social workers understand this process to which they are an integral part contributing to the Care element.

    What is frustrating is that so many social workers are excellent people doing a pivotal role for the most vulnerable families, within an inconsistent and poorly funded system. However that is not a unique position but when those of us outside social care are inconsistent the consequences are considerably less harmful.

  9. sw July 23, 2019 at 9:34 pm #

    It’s a sad reality.