Ongoing staffing crisis crippling children’s trust improvement efforts

Reading's Brighter Futures for Children struggling with turnover 'at all levels of the organisation', monitoring visit finds

Social care staff turnover continues to rise.

The “high and sometimes sudden turnover” of social work staff at a children’s services trust is continuing to cripple improvement efforts, an Ofsted monitoring visit has found.

The visit found that Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC), which took over services from Reading council in 2018, was continuing to experience staffing problems “at all levels of the organisation”.

Senior leaders told Ofsted inspectors, who were checking in on services for children in need of help and protection, that the 171 children’s cases that were unallocated in May 2019 was down to the sudden departure of frontline staff.

“Some children are being visited by duty workers and so are seeing a succession of different social workers,” Ofsted’s report said. “One four-year-old child met three social workers in as many visits.”

Delays were evident in convening child protection conferences, carrying out assessments, developing plans and delivering supervision sessions, Ofsted said.

Fragile morale

The findings echoed those of the previous monitoring inspection of BFfC’s front door in February, which found “frequent changes” within senior management and a high turnover of frontline staff were adversely affecting managers’ ability to bring about improvement.

Over the past three years, government workforce statistics have shown the agency social worker rate within Reading’s children’s services as between 34% and 45%.

“This visit has highlighted a recurring pattern of staff being recruited and then leaving relatively quickly,” the new report said. “At the time of this visit, one of the two permanent members of the senior leadership team, the deputy director, who has been in post since November 2018, had resigned.”

Staff morale was described as fragile.

Ofsted noted that performance management data and audits had successfully highlighted the areas where progress needed to be made, with some meetings taking place more frequently than before.

But despite senior leaders’ commitment to recruiting and retaining staff, there was no “significant impact on the quality of service that children receive in Reading”, the report said.

‘Huge amount’ of work to be done

Eleni Ioannides, BFfC’s interim director of children’s services, acknowledged there was a “huge amount” of work to be done.

“There is no getting away from the fact that the lack of permanent children’s social workers is impacting on our ability to make sustained improvements,” she said.

“This is a nationwide issue, felt more acutely by all children’s services near to London, where social workers can attract higher salaries,” Ioannides added. “It isn’t helped by the high cost of housing and living in Berkshire which, again, impacts on our recruitment success.”

She said that despite the volume of unallocated cases, no children had been left unsafe at the time of Ofsted’s visit and that the backlog had been quickly dealt with.

Ioannides said eight home-grown social workers were due to start imminently and that other permanent practitioners were being taken on as the organisation tries to steady the ship.

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