By Charlotte Webster-
Ofsted has praised a formerly inadequate London borough’s children in need and child protection services, after observing significant improvements in their delivery of service.
The regulator’s sixth and final monitoring visit to Tower Hamlets council included an evaluation of the
quality of practice in the assessment and intervention (AI) and family support and
protection (FSP) teams.
Following a finding of being ‘inadequate’ by the watchdog at its last full inspection in early 2017, inspectors noted that staff turnover in the AI team had increased from 10% in 2015 to 30% in 2016. Its 2016 report had concluded that too many children remained in situations of actual or potential harm for too long. The report at the time added that:
“Insufficient scrutiny by the chief executive, the director of children’s services and politicians has meant that they did not know about the extent of the failures to protect children until this inspection,” the report added. The latest inspection was more complimentary in its conclusions It stated that children at risk of immediate harm were responded to quickly, and that ”strategy discussions take place promptly and result in appropriate outcomes. It added that ”thresholds are well embedded and are applied consistently in most cases, resulting in proportionate action to protect children.
Rigorous performance management was also noted to be well embedded throughout the service. Frequent visitations of children and timely statutory reviews was also observed to be a strong feature of the delivery of children’s services-n aspect that was clearly missing in the past.
“Previously these children’s needs were not prioritised or reviewed, leaving many of them in harmful situations for lengthy periods of time,” Ofsted said. The quality of practise was also competently reviewed with evaluations of child protection plans made every six weeks.
Ofsted inspectors also observed evidence of imaginative direct work, especially in relation to “effective safety planning in response to young people who are both victims and perpetrators of knife crime”.
Leaders were said to have a good understanding of children’s services through regular ‘real time’ information reports to scrutiny panel and the multi-agency improvement and operational boards, inspectors concluded.
“Historically, the emphasis has been on ensuring compliance with processes, but the recently enhanced and outcome focused audit activity is driving up quality standards across the AI and FSP teams,” they added. “Rigorous performance management is now well embedded throughout the service.”
However, Ofsted’s generally positive assessment of Tower Hamlet childrens’s services was cautioned with the inspectors observation of an”inconsistent” response to neglected children was “a longstanding stubborn issue in Tower Hamlets”.
Ofsted called for the quicker implementation of new initiatives launched in the children’s services. The regulator pointed out the the need for quicker implementation of existing training in recognising and analysing the impact of persistent neglect on children accompanied with a multi-agency strategy and risk assessment tool .
“While inspectors saw good examples of analytical case supervision, ensuring that children’s plans progress swiftly, this has not yet been effective in reducing drift and delay for several children experiencing neglect,” the report said.
Management oversight was found to be regular, but in the FSP team was said to vary in quality, and supervision could be improved, it added.
“While most social workers receive regular supervision, required actions lack clarity,” the regulator said. “Not all practice is routinely analysed by managers to ensure work is making a sustained difference to vulnerable children’s lived experiences.”
Tower Hamlets’ cabinet member for children, schools and young people, Danny Hassell, said of the visit’s outcome: “Our improvement journey in the service has taken us a long way in a short time. But the journey continues, and we will concentrate heavily on the areas that Ofsted have told us need further attention and improvement.
“While our budget invested significantly in our services and our social workers, no one underestimates the hard work that we still have to complete before our final inspection.” Tower Hamlet’s Children in need services has come a long way from its embarrassing past of incompetence, but it still has quite a way to go.