Improvements in child protection practice at an ‘inadequate’ local authority have “accelerated” in the hands of “enthusiastic and motivated” social workers, Ofsted has found.
A monitoring visit to East Riding council, which received the lowest possible inspection grade shortly before the pandemic, observed notable progress being made under “determined and stable” leaders operating to a “realistic” plan.
The visit, which focused on work following strategy discussions, children’s assessments and plans, and pre-proceedings work, noted that longstanding difficulties recruiting and retaining staff were continuing to affect consistency and stability in some areas.
East Riding’s social work vacancy rate increased from 9.3% to 14% from September 2020 to September 2021, while turnover during that year was 17.4%, up from 10.9% the previous year, according to Department for Education figures.
Steps taken to address staffing issues
But inspectors praised steps being taken to address these issues, including financial investment in developing a “creative workforce offer”.
“The approach to ‘grow your own’ has resulted in the local authority projecting it will be fully staffed by summer 2022,” Ofsted said in a letter to Eoin Rush, the director of children’s services (DCS). “The workforce and their wellbeing are valued by senior leaders who engage and communicate frequently with workers.”
At East Riding’s last full inspection in December 2019, the inspectorate highlighted significant concerns with strategic and operational oversight in services for children in need of help and protection. This had contributed to a decline in service quality not being fully recognised.
Improved practice oversight
The recent monitoring visit found a much-improved picture. “Effective performance management systems provide senior leaders with a greater ability to scrutinise and monitor data so that they can swiftly identify issues of concern,” Ofsted said.
Recent Ofsted reports
At a strategic level, inspectors noted that senior leaders had recently commissioned a peer review into the quality and impact of pre-proceedings work, and had begun to implement its recommendations.
“The recent appointment of the interim strategic lead for children’s social work is beginning to further strengthen the apparatus to support the pre-proceedings process,” they wrote. “In turn, this is enhancing the quality of practice improvement driven by the principal social worker and other leaders.”
Families now benefit from “an understanding about the support and opportunities to make effective change to avoid legal action being taken,” the visit found.
‘Clear sense of the child’s world’
The inspectors’ letter added that managers “appropriately escalate” child protection enquiries, with information being collated and shared effectively with partner agencies and “improved” direct work being carried out with children.
“Assessments of children’s needs by social workers have significantly improved,” Ofsted said. “They are analytical, informative and provide a clear sense of the child’s world and their experiences.”
Although workload pressures and the availability of the police had affected multi-agency planning for some children, inspectors found social workers had continued to visit children and had created safety plans.
There was still room for improvement in some child protection plans, which “do not consistently identify the specific needs of the individual child and lack timescales, making it difficult to… assess and monitor how progress is being made”, Ofsted found.
‘Leaders know their service well’
Victoria Aitken, East Riding’s portfolio holder for children and young people’s education, health and wellbeing, said the visit had recognised one of the leadership team’s key strengths, “that they know their service well”.
“I would also like to acknowledge all our frontline social care staff and their managers,” she said. “They have continued to work untiringly through a very difficult period to achieve the improvements we are now seeing.
Aitken added: “But while this letter is very positive and shows how far the service area has improved since 2019, we are not complacent, there is always further work to do to ensure we continue to deliver good services for our children and families.”