‘Unrecognised’ decline in child protection services sees Ofsted demote council to ‘inadequate’

Services for children in care remain 'good' in East Riding, but practice shortfalls elsewhere and lack of understanding by leaders sees overall assessment fall to bottom grade

Image of magnifying glass, notebook and keyboard (credit: peterschreiber.media / Adobe Stock)
(credit: peterschreiber.media / Adobe Stock)

Children’s services in the East Riding of Yorkshire have been downgraded from ‘good’ to ‘inadequate’ after Ofsted found a sharp decline in the quality of child protection, which leaders had not fully recognised.

Inspectors also found that where weaknesses had been identified, such as in the front-door Early Help and Safeguarding Hub (EHaSH) and around private fostering arrangements, they had not been effectively addressed.

“While some core social work practice in locality safeguarding teams is strong and effective, the quality and impact of practice and management oversight has deteriorated since the last inspection for specific groups of children,” Ofsted’s inspection report said.

The “marked deterioration” in support for children in need of help and protection came in contrast to inspectors’ appraisal of services for children in care and care leavers, which held their ‘good’ grading.

Within those teams, “robust management arrangements and lower caseloads have resulted in workers being supported to work tenaciously to improve children’s experiences and progress,” inspectors found, with care leavers receiving “exceptional” support.

But those plus points were not enough to spare the council from the lowest possible grade because of the scale of top-down concerns identified across the rest of the service.

The findings of the visit, which took place in late 2019 and was one of Ofsted’s new ‘short’ inspections, were disputed by East Riding bosses. Chief executive Caroline Lacey said she was “very disappointed” and that Ofsted’s work had amounted to taking a “snapshot of a relatively few sample cases”.

Weaknesses not addressed

The performance of East Riding council’s front door was a particular concern for inspectors.

“Thresholds for access to children’s social care services are not fully understood or applied by agency partners or by some staff in the EHaSH,” they said. “Some children remain in early help services when the risks are too high.”

Ineffective monitoring of contacts and referrals, because of staffing difficulties and weak management oversight, meant the system was not working properly, with some children’s cases not being looked into for days.

Partners sending in referrals, including the police, were also often omitting basic information that would aid in safeguarding decision making, inspectors said.

“Senior leaders identified that there were weaknesses in EHaSH since the Ofsted focused visit [in 2018],” their report said. But actions identified had not been effectively addressed, with inspectors finding that many flaws remained, leading to delays in children and families receiving effective help and protection, including where social work support was needed.

Nor had other improvement priorities that were picked up during the focused visit and previous inspection, in 2016, been completed. These related to the quality of assessments, planning and recording.

PLO review ordered

Ofsted also noted that despite leaders’ claims that a practice model was well-embedded, it was not being used consistently, with some staff failing to identify key concerns as well as strengths.

Some children’s cases were referred back to the council because of concerns about practice and oversight.

A similar disconnect was discovered relating to pre-proceedings work, which Ofsted said was not effective in improving children’s lives.

“Despite senior leaders considering this work to be strong and effective, management oversight of the quality of work, planning and decision-making for children subject to [the public law outline] is weak,” inspectors said.

“It does not ensure that the escalation into court proceedings is timely or effective, and does not prevent PLO work ending before any effective change is achieved for children in all cases,” they added.

Senior managers would now carry out an urgent review of the last six months’ PLO work, inspectors added.

‘Result does not reflect our work’

A statement issued by East Riding of Yorkshire council in response to the inspection result said that it “does not reflect the range of effective, successful work carried out by our highly professional, committed and caring staff across all the services”.

Nonetheless, the statement added that the council acknowledged there were areas where practice could be improved and said it would be striving to make changes.

“We will now be working with Ofsted, the Department for Education (DfE) and other partners to make sure this transitional process is as effective as possible and that any improvements are made in a timely manner,” the statement said.

Despite questioning the short inspection format, chief executive Lacey also apologised for “any aspects of our work which haven’t lived up to our aspirations for the services we provide”.

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