A council where children’s services were at “breaking point” last year has begun to show signs of improvement, Ofsted inspectors have said.
Over summer 2018 there had been a “rapid rise in demand for services, which, combined with instability at the leadership level, and a high turnover of social care staff, led to a deterioration in the quality of services for children”, Ofsted noted.
The new full inspection, carried out in June, deemed the council’s services to ‘require improvement to be good’, the same rating it received as it did when it was last inspected in 2015. But the report acknowledged how “senior leaders have managed to achieve a degree of stability” and said there was a “sense of renewed optimism among managers and staff”.
This followed a period of “almost unprecedented” senior manager turnover, which had seen five directors of children’s services, three chief executives and three leaders of the council in just 18 months, inspectors observed.
But despite signs of change, the quality of social work practice was “too variable” and not all families were getting the right level of help and protection, Ofsted said.
‘Start again social work’
The inspection found acute problems in services for disabled children, where high turnover had a “debilitating” effect on the team and meant some children and families’ needs were not being well served. As a result of this, senior leaders have had to accelerate plans to address the team’s problems.
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While practice was good in other areas, the high turnover of staff had contributed to “a lack of continuity and a loss of momentum”, which inspectors said had resulted in “a kind of ‘start again social work’”.
A clampdown by the council on poor practice – which had been tolerated because “some managers were ‘grateful’ just to have people in post” – had created its own challenges, inspectors found.
“In one team alone, 30% of the team’s caseload has changed hands since March. This has significant implications for the social workers, their managers and for children and families,” the report said.
It added that children in care’s experiences were variable and partly dependent on who their social workers are and where they are based.
“Those whose social workers are based in Here4U, the local authority’s children in care and care leavers team, are generally very positive. A largely stable staff team means that children are more likely to enjoy meaningful relationships with their social workers,” inspectors found.
“The experiences and progress of children in care whose social workers are based in the disabled children’s team or one of the three long-term teams tend not to be quite so positive. This is largely a product of competing demands on social workers’ time and, until very recently, high staff turnover.”
Beginning to have an impact
Ofsted highlighted positives going forward, however, with the senior leadership team appointed in the last six months taking action that was “beginning to have an impact” and “more in touch with and responsive to what is happening at the frontline”.
The report also said that throughout all the upheaval the council’s model of social work had been a “constant”, “providing a welcome structure and a much-needed element of continuity”.
“Its influence is evident at every level, from the strategic to the operational,” inspectors said. “It helps to shape the way in which social workers think and practise and provides a common language for use with other professionals. It continues to be used effectively to engage parents and families, helping them to understand what needs to change and why.”
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