LEADERS at Reading Borough Council have pledged to continue to drive forward improvements to Children’s Services following a full Ofsted inspection.
The ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating published today (Aug 5th) comes as the Council tackles an 85% increase in referrals to social care in Reading over the past 12 months and a 41% increase in social worker caseloads. Coupled with a national shortage of skilled social workers, the Children’s Services teams have faced a challenging year.
The Council fully accepts the serious findings in today’s report. In the same report Ofsted acknowledge, however, that the Council has already identified and started addressing many of the issues raised and that a newly appointed and experienced management team, led by new Director Helen McMullen, have already started to make progress.
Examples of progress being made include:
- A robust recruitment and retention plan which has already successfully secured 43 permanent social workers and managers. 80 per cent of Reading social workers will be permanent by the autumn.
- A strong improvement plan is in place and inspectors acknowledged there were clear examples of progressive reform under way. The report says senior managers are confident they have a realistic understanding of practice weaknesses and recent work is beginning to have some impact.
- Inspectors note the Director has made responding to child sexual exploitation a priority. She chairs the LSCB sexual exploitation and missing sub-group and a child sexual exploitation co-ordinator has helped improve mapping and tracking of any children at risk.
- A number of significant senior roles have been filled on a permanent basis, including the Head of Safeguarding, Head of Transformation and Governance and the Head of Early Help, as well as a recently appointed Principal Social Worker to focus on the delivery of quality and consistent practice.
- A new model of working is being introduced in the autumn to reduce individual caseloads, offer clear and direct support to social workers and improve the quality of assessments.
- All care plans for children are being entered onto a new case records system which will ensure they are kept up to date and are of high quality.
- Extra support and training for social workers is under way and will provide a consolidation of performance standards and include a comprehensive induction programme.
- The Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), which helps identify and support children at risk straight away, is working well, with a good level of information sharing between partners and effective out of hours provision.
Councillor Jan Gavin, Reading’s Lead Member for Children’s Services, said: “This Ofsted inspection is a difficult read and we do not shy away from its findings.
“I can assure residents that the safeguarding of children in Reading is a top priority for the council and a robust improvement plan is already in place and is beginning to make a difference.
“As the inspectors recognised, we were already aware of many of the issues raised in the report through our own internal assessment and we are continuing to put every effort into making sustainable, long term improvements.
“The council had already committed an additional £1.4 million to increase the number of social worker and management posts.
“The report recognises there has been an improvement in our performance in many areas since we have successfully appointed a permanent senior management team in Children’s Services and that we are addressing our recent over-reliance on agency staff with an aggressive, and so far successful, recruitment campaign to attract permanent staff.
“As the new Director, Helen McMullen, recently reported to the last Adult, Children and Education Committee, plans are well advanced to implement a new service delivery model by this autumn that will reduce high caseloads and will offer clear and direct support to social workers and improve the quality of assessments.
“We have put in place clear management and social worker refresher training to ensure risks to children are robustly managed.
“We have strengthened management oversight and created more team managers in the new service to make sure that all cases are dealt with swiftly and are reviewed regularly.
“We have also strengthened information sharing with all professionals by creating the MASH (multi agency safeguarding hub) so that children are identified and supported straight away.
“We are not complacent and we recognise there is much to be done and we do not underestimate the challenges we face.
“However, I am confident we have laid the solid foundations that will enable us to deliver the improvements required.”
The Ofsted report says Ms McMullen has been determined to pick up and drive forward improvement plans since her appointment in February 2016 and some positive progress can already be seen. It also notes that Lead Councillor Jan Gavin demonstrates a focused and clear understanding of the challenges and performance of Children’s Services, underpinned by regular, comprehensive performance management reports.
The council’s ‘adoption performance’ was ranked as ‘requires improvement’ and inspectors noted that the council is demonstrating an increasing sense of renewed focus and urgency in its adoption work.
Inspectors also found the ‘experience and progress of care leavers’ to be requiring improvement and said advisers work closely and effectively with the large majority of care leavers to support them towards independent living. They noted that a good proportion of care leavers gain university places and that 10 young people were undertaking degree courses at the time of their inspection.
The council understands the Department for Education will advertise for a commissioner to work in Reading for three months with the remit of deciding if any immediate action is required and looking at the long term operation of Children’s Services.
Councillor Gavin said:
“Here in Reading we will accept any help we are offered to improve services but we are clear that we do not want our current improvement programme to be slowed down or interrupted.
“We are working at pace to tackle the issues which the Council itself has identified and that needed to be dealt with swiftly. We must make sure that any changes bring lasting and sustainable improvement.”
Notes for Editors:
- A team of 10 inspectors and a senior HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspectors) carried out their inspection of Reading Borough Council’s Children’s Services between 23rd May and June 15th 2016.
- The council was judged as ‘adequate’ at its last inspection in March 2013.
- Approximately 35,850 children and young people under 18 years of age live in Reading, which accounts for 22.3 per cent of the total population.
- As at May 23rd 2016, 1,724 children had been identified through assessment as being formally in need of a specialist children’s service – an increase from 1,394 in March 2015.
- As at May 23rd 2016, 256 children and young people were the subject of a child protection plan – an increase from 204 in March 2015.
- As at May 23rd 2016, 236 children were being looked after by Reading Borough Council (a rate of 68 per 10,000 children) compared with 205 (27 per 10,000 children) in March 2015.
National Shortage of Social Workers
A national challenge in terms of recruiting and retaining skilled social workers and managers is well documented and not unique to Reading. For Reading, the effect has been a significant turnover of staff over the last nine months. As demand for social workers rises across the country, many staff have moved on to become agency workers. Some staff are getting jobs closer to their home and others have retired. The impact has been that some children have seen a number of changes of social workers in teams that have experienced turnover of staff.
The Council is working hard to ensure a skilled and stable workforce is in place to serve the most vulnerable children. In its report, Ofsted acknowledges the Council’s commitment to improve services to children underpinned by an additional £1.4 million investment to increase the number of social workers and front line managers.
Ofsted’s inspection methodology has changed since 2013. The bar for ‘good’ services has been raised to ensure all children receive nothing less than ‘good’ services. Children’s services that were judged to be ‘adequate’ prior to 2013 are now judged to be ‘require improvement’ or ‘inadequate’. In Reading, the previous inspection judged services for children to be ‘adequate’.
The full Ofsted report can be found here: http://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/local-authorities/reading