Trafford’s children in need still receiving inconsistent service, Ofsted warns

Fourth monitoring visit to 'inadequate' Greater Manchester borough finds 'too much variability', including in how social workers are supervised

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

Ofsted has warned an ‘inadequate’ council that local children in need still face “too much variability” in children’s services’ practice.

After their fourth monitoring visit to Trafford, which received the lowest possible grade in 2019, inspectors found that assessments, CIN planning and social work supervision and oversight remained inconsistent.

More positively, they noted that senior leaders were in many cases aware of shortcomings and were taking steps to address them.

Despite turnover having dropped from previous levels, the borough was still reliant on a high number of agency social workers, Ofsted said.

Patchy supervision and auditing

At their last full inspection, inspectors heavily criticised bosses at Trafford over their lack of awareness of how services had been declining, concluding they had “no understanding of the current quality of practice”.

But more recently, and since the appointment of current director of children’s services Jill McGregor in 2020, monitoring visits had found that a new performance management framework had led to much improved oversight.

After the latest visit, Ofsted highlighted “significant” ongoing auditing activity as being a positive, with issues uncovered in performance data leading to thematic reviews.

But they added that the quality of auditing continued to be patchy, with “inconsistent involvement of family members and practitioners”.

“Audit actions are sometimes too focused on compliance and are not followed up in a timely way, which limits the potential for wider learning to be disseminated quickly, and to drive practice improvement forward,” Ofsted said.

At an operational management level, inspectors found a similarly uneven picture, with supervision sessions “not always sufficiently reflective to help social workers to explore what strategies might work”.

They said there was “limited evidence” of managers challenging the quality of assessments and plans, with oversight “sometimes [lacking] sufficient impact to ensure that social work interventions are purposeful and effective”.

‘Limited effectiveness’ of social work interventions

The same issues were found to be apparent on the front line, with some assessments “detailed” and “clear” but others lacking a thorough explanation of parenting capacity, missing chronologies or not completed on time.

“The quality of CIN plans is also variable,” Ofsted said. “Plans identify children’s needs accurately, and are routinely reviewed, but they are not always updated as children’s circumstances change.

“It is not always clear from plans what strategies should be used by social workers to address a lack of engagement by children and families,” inspectors said. “This limits the effectiveness of social work interventions with children in need of support,” they added, noting that this was an area leaders were looking at.

Ofsted also highlighted issues in Trafford’s children with additional needs (CWAN) team, where staffing problems meant “the quality of work is not strong”, with some instances of drift and delay.

An agency project team had been commissioned to try to address this, along with new development plans being offered to CWAN social workers. A number of other positives initiatives were noted in the letter sent to McGregor, the DCS, including a management development programme to help make supervision more consistent, and training for all staff aimed at improving direct work.

Social workers told Ofsted that they liked working in Trafford, with caseloads becoming more manageable and managers “visible and supportive”.

‘We are not complacent’

A spokesperson for Trafford Council said: “The inspectors have noted the quality time our social workers spend with children and families, developing good relationships. We will continue to work closely with children, young people and  their families to make sure they are at the centre of all we do.

“We have also worked hard with our partners to provide the right help and  support to our children and families and strengthen the quality of our services and interventions. Our progress during this period has been recognised by Ofsted.

“The importance of our strong and stable senior leadership team has also been noted by Ofsted, along with the fact that there is a more stable workforce who enjoy working in Trafford.

“However we are not complacent and we recognise there are still areas where we need to improve and we will focus our efforts on ensuring we offer the best services possible to our children and families.”


More from Community Care

Comments are closed.