Quarterly review of performance against the Ofsted action plan
- Meeting of Children and young people scrutiny committee, Monday 11 March 2019 10.00 am, MOVED (Item 61.)
- View the background to item 61.
To receive a quarterly review of the progress against the action plan produced in response to the Ofsted Inspection of Local Authority Children's Services (ILACS) inspection judgement of June 2018
The report was introduced by Liz Elgar, assistant director safeguarding and family support (ADS&FS). The following was highlighted:
· In January Oftsed had undertaken an outcome focused visit which had focused on transition from early help to children’s social care; operations in the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) and Early Help (EH) Services.
· The inspection had found that frequency of visits and assessment timeliness were improving.
· There were still a lot of agency social workers at the council but a number had been in position for a long time.
· Less children were subject to child protection plans.
· There was still a high level of looked after children but the incorporation of special guardianship arrangements in Council policy was being investigated.
· Better working between EH and Children’s Social Care had been achieved which allowed for the earlier identification of children requiring intervention. The earlier identification of children would also have an impact upon the capacity of EH services.
· A draft proposal for the edge of care service was being developed offering intervention for children in the looked after system.
· Work was being undertaken with families in the looked after system with an emphasis upon potential reunification with looked after children.
· The Council had recently joined the regional adoption agency Adoption Central England (ACE).
Members raised the following points in the discussion that followed:
· It was queried how there had been a reduction in the number of referrals to the MASH when it had been confirmed that referrals from the police remained too high. The ADS&FS explained that the reestablishment of the MASH partnership and the multi-agency audit had resulted in the adherence to thresholds for intervention. It was acknowledged that more work needed to be undertaken with the police to reduce referrals. The director of children and families (DCF) explained that the police made referrals where there was a concern regarding welfare rather than applying the thresholds relating to significant harm. It was a longstanding issue which was acknowledged in the Ofsted letter but the director’s understanding was that West Mercia Police in Herefordshire believed it was solely a Herefordshire issue.
· The reduction in social worker caseloads outlined in the report was raised and there was concern at the contention by Ofsted that appropriate caseload numbers may not be sustainable. It was important that there was effective management and monitoring of caseloads and an update on the latest situation was requested. The ADS&FS explained that there had been significant improvement in the assessment service caseloads since the visit of Ofsted in June 2018. Social workers with caseloads over 20 were now reported and monitored. It was acknowledged that caseloads in the LAC service were relatively high but action was being taken to address this.
· The optimal caseload for social workers was questioned and how officers were supported to outline concerns over capacity. The ADS&FS explained that there was not a definitive figure but it was important that supervision monitored caseloads and the capacity of staff. The DCF outlined the work being undertaken by senior management to increase visibility and ensure staff were able to raise issues.
· The caseload of newly qualified staff was questioned. The ADS&FS explained that newly qualified social worker should have half the caseload of an experienced social worker. Support was provided to newly qualified social workers by the social work academy. The capacity of all social workers including the newly qualified was monitored.
· The improvement to the completion of assessments within timescales was welcomed and it was asked how it was achieved. The ADS&FS explained that recruitment of agency workers to the CP court service allowed work to be moved out of the assessment team that was appropriate to the court team. This had allowed for the assessment team to concentrate on completing assessments within the timescales. The DCF explained that assessments were part of a whole-system approach that included assessments in the EH service. Cabinet had dedicated money to address capacity and support EH assessments.
· It was asked what had been the greatest challenge to the service over the previous quarter. The ADS&FS explained that recruitment was the most challenging element. There were agency staff but if they left there would be gaps and a lack of familiarity on the part of incoming staff with the systems and processes. This was not an issue that was unique to Herefordshire; Shropshire had similar issues.
· The recent national recruitment campaign for nurses was raised and it was felt that a similar campaign should be undertaken for the recruitment of social workers. It was agreed that a letter would be sent to the local MPs to encourage a national campaign for the recruitment of social workers.
· The success of the EH service and the impact on the capacity of the service was raised. It was requested that a flow chart was produced which showed how EH systems worked. It was queried whether the review of the interface between children’s social services and EH had been undertaken. The ADS&FS explained there was a focus on Early Help interventions. An overarching EH strategy was being developed and better step-up and step-down arrangements were being developed to achieve an effective operational interface.
· The work required to performance reports to ensure they assisted improvement to social work practice was queried. The ADS&FS explained that there had been difficulty in getting detail of IRO performance further work on performance in fostering was required. More information concerning assessments completed within timescales was also needed and this information broken down into the relevant services areas for those assessments to have finer detail on performance within elements of the service. A lot of work had been undertaken on performance data and great improvements had been realised in a number of teams however it was acknowledged that; improvement was still required in some areas.
· There had been an improvement in the timeliness of Child In Need (CiN) visits but the statistics were still poor, it was queried what work would be undertaken to make further improvements. The ADS&FS acknowledged that the timeliness was not as good as it should be but the figures were affected by cultural issues which undermined the priority of CiN. Work was ongoing to reinforce the understanding that CiN were at level 4 in the thresholds and visits were required. In some cases poor step-down processes from child protection and the recording of data had contributed to the concerning results.
· The delay to the work with LAC on access to health records was queried. The ADS&FS explained that this work was dependent upon the involvement of health colleagues.
· Partnership working and communication between the Council and Health partners was queried. The ADS&FS explained that the re-established MASH forum and the multi-agency audits had been very useful to co-ordinate with Health colleagues.
· It was queried whether social workers felt empowered to report faults and concerns. The ADS&FS explained that an open door policy was provided to staff to see senior officers with issues but not many members of staff had used the facility. Ofsted had heard from officers within the service that there had been improvements and the visibility of senior staff had increased.
· A member commented that there were concerns regarding planning among health partners for additional health infrastructure required for house-building and population increases in some areas of Herefordshire.
RESOLVED: That –
The committee recognises that the Ofsted outcome letter of the visit on 22 January 2019 acknowledges improvements and that processes have been put in place and actions commenced since the inspection of Children’s Services took place in June 2018.
The committee notes that the letter from Ofsted outlines those areas which continue to be a cause of concern and which require improvement.
The committee asks that the next quarterly report focuses on and is structured around those areas for improvement outlined in the Ofsted letter, specifically:
- Application, by partners, of thresholds for making referrals for statutory social work intervention.
- Quality of assessments, including the time taken to complete assessments and the level of frequency of visits to children.
- Management oversight and social work supervision.
- Understanding the experiences of children and families subject to repeat child in need assessments.
The committee also asks that the next quarterly report provides an update on the areas of concern in the Ofsted letter, including:
- Some children wait too long between social work visits.
- The quality of the initial planning for children following assessment or child protection enquiries is variable.
- More needs to be done to improve the way such cases are reviewed and progressed when early help is not improving the experiences of children.
- Further work is required to improve the accuracy of performance information.
- With respect to erroneously ‘stepped-up’ cases; more needs to be done to improve the way such cases are reviewed and progressed when early help is not improving the experiences of children.
- Further work is required to improve the accuracy of performance information.
- Concerning the recruitment and retention of social workers, it is too early to be assured that they will be able to sustain appropriate caseload numbers.
- The actions arising from audits are not adequately tracked, and some children’s cases have continued to drift following an audit.
- Management challenge to less effective practice in some cases.
- Quarterly review of performance against the Ofsted action plan, main report, item 61. PDF 136 KB
- Appendix A Children and Families executive summary report Dec 2019, item 61. PDF 454 KB
- Appendix B - Self Evaluation Framework Oct to Dec 2018, item 61. PDF 119 KB
- Appendix C - Herefordshire Ofsted Improvement Plan - Update, item 61. PDF 695 KB
- Appendix D for Appendix D Focused Visit outcome letter from Ofsted, item 61. PDF 92 KB