‘Weaknesses’ in social worker practice and ‘poor’ management oversight found in council | Community Care

Ofsted has identified areas of “significant weakness” in a local authority’s children’s services after inspectors found a poorly understood application of thresholds and “considerable drift and delay”.

A focused visit to St Helens council’s children in need and child protection services found “poor threshold decision-making and delays when escalating children’s cases to child protection plans” and that the council was failing to address “poor and harmful living conditions for too many children”.

“Social workers do not always take effective or timely action when children are living in neglectful circumstances with their families. These weaknesses in practice are not tackled because management oversight across all levels in children’s social care is poor,” inspectors said.

Ofsted highlighted that the council’s strategic director of people services, Professor Sarah O’Brien, had notified the watchdog of “serious shortfalls in practice” found during her first weeks in the role. O’Brien, in post since June this year, “has already revised the children’s plan and has instigated a full review of the many policies and procedures that govern the work undertaken by children’s social care”, Ofsted said.

Poorly recorded supervision


Source: ‘Weaknesses’ in social worker practice and ‘poor’ management oversight found in council | Community Care

Social workers in council’s safeguarding hub ‘under pressure’ gathering ‘unnecessary information’, Ofsted finds : Community Care

Ofsted said a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub was under pressure as a result of poor police notifications to social workers

by Luke Stevenson

Photo: tatomm/Fotolia

Social workers are being placed “under pressure” as a result of poor police notifications to the multi-agency safeguarding hub, an inspection of Poole’s children’s services has found.

Inspectors found social workers in the council’s hub were placed under pressure due to having to gather “unnecessary information” following police notifications that did not meet the threshold for social care.

Ofsted rated children’s services in Poole as ‘require improvement to be good’ overall, but said thresholds for referrals to social care were generally well understood and applied by partners.

It added that responses to referrals were generally effective and the risks were well managed, but concluded that parental consent was not routinely recorded. Inspectors recommended the council ensure sufficient resources for the hub, to ensure professionals had the capacity to share information in a timely manner.

Inconsistent outcomes

Inspectors praised the senior leadership team who had worked “purposefully with partners to implement a number of systemic changes to sustain and improve outcomes for children”.

However, these outcomes were inconsistent, and despite strengths in adoption and care leaver performance weaknesses had emerged in child protection and looked-after children services.

“Senior managers know that there is still work to do to strengthen many aspects of social work practice to make it consistently good,” the report said.

Caseload reduction

Poole’s improvement plan had led to a reduction in social workers’ caseloads and the workforce was stable, Ofsted found, but quality assurance activity had not yet led to improved outcomes for children for all children because of “inconsistent management oversight”.

The report said: “Regular supervision takes place for the vast majority of social workers, but the quality is variable and not yet sufficiently reflective to challenge ineffective practice.

“Weak management oversight and some poor practice in the out-of-hours service have left some children vulnerable.”

Recommendations for Poole council included improving contingency planning in child protection and child in need cases and increasing the effectiveness of management oversight by ensuring decisions and actions are clearly recorded within children’s case files.

Mike White, cabinet portfolio holder for Children and Young People in the council welcomed the strengths Ofsted found in the service.

“It’s particularly pleasing that the inspectors recognised the great work of our social workers in listening to children when helping those families in need of our support,” White said.

“We are committed to improving outcomes for all children in the borough and will use the findings of this report to further raise the standard of our service,” he added.


Source : Social workers in council’s safeguarding hub ‘under pressure’ gathering ‘unnecessary information’, Ofsted finds : Community Care

Michael Rosen: Ofsted screw up as they are trying to recruit

Practice what they preach not what they say.





Source: Michael Rosen: Ofsted screw up as they are trying to recruit

Ofsted inspections ‘must take account of budget cuts’

Original post from Community Care


Local government leaders say ratings cannot be divorced from the reality of austerity measures

Photo: ImageBroker/ RexShutterstock
Photo: ImageBroker/ RexShutterstock

Local government leaders have called on Ofsted’s inspections and judgments to take much more account of the financial context in which children’s services are delivered.

David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association improvement and innovation board, said that when councillors have received an Ofsted report, they “can’t go in to a council meeting and divorce that from the wider financial position”.

Introducing a session at the National Children and Adult Services Conference on the future of inspection, he pointed out that there had been an average reduction in funding for children’s services of about 40%, and a further cut of 40% was anticipated following the spending review.


Councillor Simmonds also said it was a concern that senior officials and local government leaders were saying that, in the context of spending on children’s services, they were “not sure it’s worth it to be anything other than [a] ‘requires improvement’ [judgment].”

He said the way in which the sector looked at improvement needed to “take into account the means we have at our disposal”.

Alison O’Sullivan, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, told delegates at the session that she had a feeling of “depression” about the way in which the performance of children’s services was described in inspection judgments.

“It can’t be right that everything appears to be worse than it was when actually it’s getting better,” she said.

Defensive inspection as dangerous as defensive practise

In her opening address to the conference earlier in the day, she said Ofsted and the government were “determined to complete the cycle of this dysfunctional process which will inevitably carry on generating the kind of headlines over the next 18 months that we have already seen: that two thirds of local authorities are failing in their responsibilities towards children.

“This is not only irresponsible, it’s plain wrong,” she said. “Why is it that we’ve arrived at a point where the overall findings from these inspections are weighted too heavily towards a negative? Ofsted is worried that later someone will say that they got it wrong and therefore default to defensive inspection. Defensive inspection is just as dangerous as defensive frontline practise.”

She also pointed out that, “despite inspection judgments, despite media coverage to the contrary, England remains one of the safest countries in the world for children”, with the five-year average rate of child deaths due to assault and undetermined intent falling by 60% over the past 30 years according to the NSPCC’s latest How Safe Are Our Children research.

Consistent and realistic narrative

In the afternoon session on inspections, O’Sullivan said the language used to describe performance was “powerful and important”, and there was a “responsibility to have a consistent and realistic narrative about what’s going on”.

“It’s not about sugar coating things if they’re not good enough but it’s also that subtleties in language are of huge importance.”

In her contribution to the afternoon panel, Ofsted’s interim national director for social care, Eleanor Schooling, defended the wording of inspection judgments.

“Under the current framework there’s a lot of talk that 70% of the country is not doing well enough,” she said. “But at Ofsted we never said that ‘requires improvement’ is below the bar. It’s something that needs further work to become good. If you look at inspection outcomes in that way, three-quarters or more are places that are at least satisfactory or better.”

Schooling said feedback from the sector on the Single Inspection Framework for children’s services suggested it should be more proportionate, complemented by targeted inspections, and that inspections should focus on services for looked-after children and care leavers. There had also been calls for self-assessment to have an “important role”.

Debate with the sector

Based on this, she said a potential model was being discussed where every local authority would be inspected – “maybe every two years but it’s up for discussion” – based on a study of case files from the ‘front end’ as well as looked-after children and care leavers.

Where issues with partner agencies were identified, this could lead to a joint targeted area inspection, she said.

“At the moment we are still looking at having graded judgments,” she said. “We’ll continue to have that debate with the sector but I think there will always be a point where we say something is inadequate.”

CSE inspections

Schooling also outlined plans for the first wave of joint targeted area inspections to be carried out by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HMI Constabulary and HMI Probation.

She said a first pilot of the arrangements would happen soon and four inspections focused on child sexual exploitation would take place between Christmas and the end of the 2015/16 financial year.

Feedback would not be in the form of a one-word judgment but would be presented in a narrative, she added.


Damning report finds social work regulation ‘not fit for purpose’

Original post from Community Care


Overseeing body, the Professional Standards Authority, described the current regulatory system as outdated and incoherent

PSA: 'iron cage' of regulation needs rethinking. Photo: waferboard/ flickr
PSA: ‘iron cage’ of regulation needs rethinking. Photo: waferboard/ flickr

Social work regulation needs a “radical overhaul”, according to the Professional Standards Authority, in a hard-hitting report which questioned whether the current system was fit for purpose.

Frightened into compliance

In a report published last week, the overseeing body said regulation which attempts to “frighten [registrants] into resentful compliance” is to the detriment of performance.

Rather than inflexible and punitive regulation, which stopped practitioners from being innovative, there should be a greater focus on how regulators can support registrants’ professionalism and prevent them from being overburdened with rules and guidance, the report said.

It added the idea that risk of harm can be totally eliminated threatens to corrode the public trust in professionals and in regulation itself.

“All health and care interventions have an element of risk which cannot be totally eliminated,” the PSA pointed out.

Mission creep

“Too often we have seen examples of regulatory mission creep, where regulators have sought to expand the boundaries of their activity in ways that have resulted in confusion for the public and internal conflict of interest.”

This “creep” was flagged up by the Law Commission in a report last year, in which it was suggested the HCPC was breaching registrants’ human right to a private life.

“Registrants’ careers and lives, and those of their families, can often be seriously and lastingly damaged too, sometimes by [registrants’] words or actions lasting no more than a few moments,” the PSA report said.

The PSA also concluded that a “proliferation of regulatory organisations inevitably impedes the pace of change and improvement across the sector. It also embeds operational inefficiency and unnecessary expense.”

Fragmented system

Instead of the current fragmented system, there should be shared objectives between professional and systems regulators, the report recommended.

The Health and Care Professions Council which regulates social workers, and Ofsted which regulates the authorities that employ them, should share data and intelligence.

There are more than 20 different regulatory bodies and 12 professional regulators for health, care and social work in the UK. The report said this “vastly complicated and incoherent” regulator system existed despite a lack of understanding of the benefits of regulation and its influence on registrants behaviour.

Next steps

The PSA proposed several steps that should be taken to improve regulation:

  • A shared “theory of regulation” across the sector
  • Shared objectives for system and professional regulators, and greater clarity on respective roles and duties
  • Transparent benchmarking to set standards
  • A reduced scope of regulation so it focuses on what works
  • A proper risk assessment model for who and what should be regulated put into practice

A PSA spokesman said the report had been distributed widely and it was hoped it would stimulate discussion about what the next steps should be.      ………………’

‘No child is safe in this jail’: charity chief’s warning after damning Ofsted inspection

Original post from Community Care


Ofsted criticises ‘very poor’ staff behaviour and racial discrimination at child prison, while campaigners call for its immediate closure

Image: Action Press/Rex Features
Image: Action Press/Rex Features

A G4S-run secure training centre has been slammed by Ofsted after children were subjected to “degrading treatment, racist comments and being cared for by staff who were under the influence of illegal drugs”.

Inspectors said the volume of “very poor staff behaviour warranting disciplinary measures” was seriously concerning, while campaigners called for the institution to be closed.

Incidents of restraint

The Rainsbrook centre, near Rugby in Warwickshire, is managed by G4S and designed to accommodate children aged 12 to 18 who are serving a custodial sentence or have been securely remanded awaiting sentence.

Just under half (72) of the 166 restraints carried out by staff in the six months leading up to the inspection were found to have been in response to young people self-harming.

Inspectors also feared staff were not properly recording instances where a child had been isolated, and noted staff considered ‘time out’ as a form of punishment, rather than an activity young people could choose when they wanted private time.

Racial discrimination

The inspection also found there were 21 racial discrimination complaints made in 2014, while one member of staff had been dismissed for using racist language.

Contraband DVDs found in the centre were “likely to be attributable to staff smuggling”, raising concerns that young people were allowed to view inappropriate material.

“It also raised a concern that some staff may have colluded with young people to elicit compliance by wholly inappropriate means,” the report stated. “Senior managers are unable to reassure inspectors this is not the case.”

‘Catalogue of abusive practices’

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, called it “the worst report on a prison I have ever seen” and warned that “no child is safe” inside Rainsbrook.

“It is a catalogue of abusive practices that have been inflicted on young children who have no escape,” she said.

She added: “These child jails run for profit are secretive and should never have been set up in the first place. Rainsbrook should be closed immediately. No child is safe in this jail.”


Ofsted called on the centre to ensure all staff adhere to high standards of behaviour, review the centre’s actions in relation to serious disciplinary matters and provide effective interventions for young men regarding the risks of child sexual exploitation.

Paul Cook, director of children’s services at G4S, said the report is “extremely disappointing” and the first time in 16 years that the centre has been found by any inspecting body to be less than ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

“We recognise that the incidents highlighted by inspectors were completely unacceptable and took swift action at the time, in discussion with the Youth Justice Board.”

Related articles:

‘Ofsted doesn’t recognise the practice chaos and professional carnage it leaves in its wake’

Original post from Community Care

‘………In the last in a series of reflections on the state of children’s social work, Ray Jones turns to the current inspection and intervention regime

By Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London

This is the last in a series of reflections on the state of children’s social work. This week, I am exploring an issue that is significantly distracting and disrupting children’s social work within local authorities

Over recent months, I have had close contact with three Ofsted inspections. I have also spoken to many others who have had inspections in the past year. They spread across councils rated by Ofsted as ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ and ‘ inadequate’. I don’t have views from a council rated ‘outstanding’ as Ofsted have not awarded this rating to any council.

Distribution of judgements is skewed

Indeed the distribution of judgements has become skewed, with councils previously rated as ‘good’ now being squeezed into the ‘requirements improvement’ and ‘inadequate’ end of the continuum.

Where on this scale would we rate Ofsted itself? It has been stated to me that the regulator is ‘dangerous’ and one of the greatest risks to the welfare and safety of children across England. This comment is not directed at individual inspectors and their commitment but about how Ofsted’s single inspection framework, the SIF, now operates.

The Spanish Inquisition?

Why is Ofsted seen as so destructive and damaging? Firstly, inspections are experienced as belligerent, bullying, battering and bruising. Interviews feel like an intensive intrusion and interrogation, with the intention to identify weakness and failure.

I have reflected long and hard before making the next statement, but Ofsted now feels like the Spanish Inquisition: turning up with no notice, presuming poor practice and guilt – which must be hunted down, flushed out and admitted by the inspectees.

The process has been described as ‘a living nightmare’, leaving behind ‘a seething anger’. These are quotes from two different authorities, both rated by Ofsted as ‘good’!

Blinkered focus

Secondly, the blinkered focus on children’s social services in the local authority means that little attention is given to other services working with children and families. Bizarrely, in areas where inter-agency working is well developed, with an increasing maturity, confidence and well-founded trust across services, Ofsted have sometimes criticised the authority because concerns about children are not always allocated to a social worker for a single assessment and then held on a social worker’s caseload as a child in need.

The contribution of others, and the lead role they may play in overseeing and assisting children and their families, is denied and denigrated.

Risk aversion may be an insurance for Ofsted against future criticism if some terrible unanticipated event occurs (as happened with the death of Peter Connelly in Haringey whilst rated ‘good’ in 2007).

Overloading social workers’ caseloads does not improve protection – it widens the child protection net with little benefit for children and families

Tackling CSE

Nowhere is this now truer than child sexual exploitation. After the embarrassment for Ofsted of Rotherham (rated as ‘good’ until the media and political onslaught following the concerns about networked sexual exploitation and horrific abuse), inspectors seem to take the view that unless a young person is allocated to a social worker, there is little acceptable action in place to build trust and a relationship  with them, and to collect information and intelligence to protect the young person and to track networks.

I see positive developments towards creating knowledge about young people who may be vulnerable and about others who might seek to exploit this vulnerability. In some areas, multi-agency and multi-professional practice and services have been developed and embedded within communities, involving police, youth workers, schools and others, with professionals proactive and engaged with taxi companies, hotels and fast-food outlets.

Working together?

It looks impressive and inspiring to me, but to Ofsted inspectors with their restricted focus on children’s social work its value goes unrecognised. When challenged about their myopic view, one inspector is reported to have said “we are only interested in children’s social work”.

This is then reflected in inspection reports – they only have recommendations for local councils. Forty years of learning about ‘working together’ and multi-agency working in child protection has been abandoned by the national inspectorate.

Government interventions

Thirdly, Ofsted judgements feed into the Department for Education’s intervention judgements. If Ofsted rates a service as ‘inadequate’, the secretary of state will issue (in escalating order of threat): an improvement notice, an improvement direction, or a decision to remove the responsibility for children’s services from the council and from local accountability and scrutiny.

The most extreme actions to date have affected Labour controlled councils – Doncaster, Rotherham, Slough and Birmingham – but in my experience, poor political governance and leadership is not only an issue in Labour controlled councils.

Climate of threat and fear

The consequence of all of the above is that local authority children’s social services operate in a climate and culture of threat and fear. An Ofsted inspection is itself harassing. Inspection reports are front-loaded with criticisms and concerns, so that even in areas rated as ‘good’, media coverage is damning.

To be rated ‘requires improvement’ (what used to be termed ‘adequate’), is itself a demoralising judgement. And an ‘inadequate’ rating is destructive.

Confidence across all agencies is lost, thresholds become very low and triaging inoperative, the workforce implodes and becomes unstable, and there is a heavy dependence on agency workers.

Stability is lost and of knowledge of children, families, communities and partner professionals and agencies decreases. Workloads increase, become overwhelming, backlogs of assessments build up, cases are unallocated and corners are cut. It then takes at least 18 months to two years to regain stability and to rebuild confidence.

What happened to improvement and development?

It should not and does not have to be like this. It was not like this. I have held senior management and leadership roles in the sector over 25 years. I have experienced external review and inspection from the Department of Health’s Social Work Service (which became the Social Services Inspectorate – SSI; the Audit Commission and SSI major joint area reviews; the Mental Health Act Commission; the National Care Standards Inspectorate and the Commission of Social Care Inspection (CSCI). All were focused on improvement and development.

‘Hit and run’

The SSI and CSCI, in particular, stayed close to councils to track and promote change and progress, and were recognised as having expertise and wisdom. In its annual reports CSCI was seeing and assisting improvement across councils. By Ofsted’s own judgements and annual reports, children’s social services are deteriorating with its interventions and under its watch.

There are strengths not to be lost in Ofsted’s focus on the experiences of children (and families), the child’s journey, and front line practice. But Ofsted has become a hit-and-run inspectorate – creating crashes wherever it turns up, leaving a trail of trauma and turmoil, hastening to move on, and not looking back. It doesn’t recognise the practice chaos and professional carnage it leaves in its wake.

We needs the (re-)creation of an inspectorate for children’s services which would work with other inspectorates, including Ofsted for schools and colleges, CQC for health services, and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary. It should focus on improving, enhancing and developing rather than what is experienced as rubbishing and derailing. It is time to urgently stop the damage and destruction.

Dr Ray Jones is professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London. A social worker and former director of social services, for two days each week he oversees child protection improvement in areas rated as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted. 

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