Ofsted has warned an ‘inadequate’ London borough that the pace at which its services for children in care are improving “needs to accelerate”.
A letter published following a second monitoring visit to Newham council, which received the lowest possible overall grade a year ago, said early signs of progress were apparent but that practice and oversight remained too variable.
Permanence planning, which received particular criticism after the full inspection in 2019, was still inconsistent at best, the monitoring visit found.
“Arrangements for tracking permanence for some children have been ineffective in helping to prevent delay,” Ofsted said. “In some cases, permanence planning meetings are not happening regularly, and when they do, they are not effective in ensuring that plans for permanence are implemented.”
Newham’s independent reviewing officer (IRO) service was not routinely tracking the progress of permanence plans, nor were IROs issuing sufficient challenge when meetings did not take place or actions were delayed.
Inspectors also found serious ongoing issues with how children were matched to placements. “Referrals do not contain enough information about children’s unique personalities or their family histories to help to inform potential matching decisions,” Ofsted said. “There is no coherent system for establishing whether proposed carers can meet a child’s needs.”
Recent Ofsted reports
Some children had lived with foster carers for a long time with no formal matching arrangement, the monitoring visit letter added. “This means managers cannot be assured that these arrangements are meeting children’s needs in the longer term, and that children do not have the reassurance of knowing that their placement is secure.”
Life-story work was another area that drew renewed criticism from inspectors, who found “many examples” where children had spent significant periods in care with little evidence of work to help them understand their histories.
In general, Ofsted found practice oversight in Newham was patchy. Direct supervision did not always lead to the production of action plans with associated timescales for completion, Ofsted said, while quality assurance and auditing did not provide senior managers with sufficient clarity to enable service improvements for children.
More positively, Ofsted said the appointment of Tim Aldridge as director of children’s services last year had provided “much-needed direction and impetus” to Newham’s improvement plans. Aldridge helped guide fellow London borough Havering from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’ during his stint there as DCS from 2016 to 2019.
Inspectors also observed individual instances of “highly creative” social work practice, and said managers had plans in place to improve consistency.
Community Care has contacted Newham council for comment and will update this story when we receive a response.