UPDATED: ‘Considerable work still needed’: Ofsted turns the heat up on Bucks children’s services

The Bucks County Council tower
The Bucks County Council tower

A check-up on Bucks County Council’s services for vulnerable children has found improvements are being made – but several areas still need significant work.

Services for children in need of protection are under the microscope after they were labelled inadequate - the worst rating possible - in 2014 in a damning report which raised a litany of failures.

BCC Cllr Lin Hazell

BCC Cllr Lin Hazell

The monitoring report, which has been published on Ofsted’s website, found that overall, improvements were being made and social care is a ‘firm priority’.

But ‘progress has not met expectation’ across many areas which still need to be brought up to scratch.

Summarising its findings, Ofsted made 12 positive comments and highlighted seven areas which were in need of work.

Lin Hazell, portfolio holder for children’s services, is ‘very pleased’ with the progress they are making and wants people to look forward rather than dwelling on the damning report from 2014.

“It was two years ago, we need to move on, It’s like living in a time warp,” she said.

“We’re turning a tanker around if you think what we’re up against. That (the 2014 report) was a disaster. We put our hands up – it was dreadful.

“But we all sat back and looked at it and have since made a commitment to staffing, a commitment to children’s services. We have done an extraordinary amount of work since the report.”

Ofsted said that ‘the pace of improvement in the quality of some social work practice, the management of allegations against professionals and the response to privately fostered children are too slow’.

It said ‘considerable work’ is still needed to ‘strengthen the quality of child-in-need and child protection plans’ and the quality of private fostering remains ‘too variable’.

‘More work is needed’ to improve quality of service and ‘improvement is still required’ to ensure scrutiny of the suitability of each placement, which need to be supported with ‘regular visits and robust assessments’.

Thames Valley Police was also criticised in the report due to the backlog in screening for domestic abuse referrals.

At the time of the visit, 450 notifications were still waiting to be screened by police – with the oldest dating back to July 31. The report states that since June 2016, ‘on-going pressures’ of police capacity have ‘caused delays’ in screening domestic abuse referrals. Because the police ‘have not screened all notifications in advance’, the children’s social care service ‘has less information to inform effective decision-making about the need for intervention’.

This, according to the report, has ‘impacted on the capacity of the children’s social care service’.

Osted added that the purpose of social work visits from Bucks County Council is ‘not always clear’ and some children have ‘too many changes of social worker’.

Referral rates to MASH (the council’s safeguarding hub) and SWAN (its child exploitation team) ‘remain high’ and the capacity to manage allegations against professionals working with children ‘remains insufficient’ which means ‘tracking outcomes and closing cases is delayed’.

Development of an allegation-management system is ‘not fully complete’ and there is a ‘particularly high turnover’ of frontline managers in children’s units.

Senior managers need to focus on ‘improving consistency in the quality of its social work practice’ and statutory assessments are ‘not always of consistent quality’.

Government inspectors from Ofsted’s monitoring team visited the authority on August 16 and 17.

These visits take place every three months at local authorities adjudged to be inadequate at their last full inspection.

Overall, the report found that the local authority is ‘making progress to improve services for its children’.

The inspectors did praise County Hall’s leaders for prioritising improvements in the service and said children’s social care services are now a ‘firm priority’.

It also praised the fact that all children who require a statutory social work assessment and intervention now have an allocated social worker which is ‘a significant improvement’.

Senior managers are more visible and communication has improved. The MASH and partnership working has improved considerably.

A permanent senior management team is now in place and has developed a comprehensive understanding of the key priorities for improvement. Social work practice in the first response and children in need units is now of better quality than it was during the last inspection.

The recruitment and retention strategy is ‘beginning to have an impact on recruiting permanent staff’. Attendance by partners at child protection conferences and core groups has significantly improved.