Social workers in Wolverhampton are failing to intervene early enough in cases where potential child sexual exploitation is evident, government inspectors have said.
The latest inspection, carried out on September 11 and 12 and published this month, found that although assessments were generally carried out to a high standard, there was an inconsistency in practice that meant some children in need got allocated a social worker earlier than others.
During the visit Ofsted inspectors had case discussions with social workers, reviewed case records and observed the general practice of staff. They also looked at the performance of management.
Lead inspector Alison Smale said: “Where there are indicators of potential child sexual exploitation, social workers are not making early enough use of a specialist screening tool when assessments are first being completed.
“These delays in potential child sexual exploitation risks and vulnerabilities being recognised and addressed, mean that risks may escalate unchecked. Some evidence of this was seen during the visit.
“Many children’s assessments in their locality teams are not updated in light of such emerging needs.
“Social workers do not spend enough time with children to build the trusting relationships they need to work with families.
“Also, plans do not set out well enough how children and families will be helped and how their needs will be met within timescales appropriate for children.
“This means that in some cases, children are not receiving a good enough service and that they wait too long for their circumstances to improve.
“For children living in households where chronic neglect is an issue, this means that historical factors are not sufficiently weighted, and so children remain subject to recurring neglect for too long,” she added.
The inspection focused on evaluating the local authority’s current arrangements for children in need and those on protection plans.
“We found the quality of assessments undertaken by the eight locality teams is consistently good. Most are well written with a clear evaluation, and strengths and risk factors are routinely and explicitly identified. The assessments are holistic and address different aspects of each child’s life experiences and the factors which influence parenting.
“However, as work with children and families proceeds, most children’s assessments are not updated often enough. This means that the majority of assessments do not sufficiently reflect the emerging needs of children and families.
“Also, plans are not sufficiently clear in their objectives so progress is difficult to measure. Information is shared and updated, but plans are not routinely developed as more becomes known about each family,” said Ms Smale.
“On the positive side, the morale of social workers in their first year of practice in these teams is high as they have the benefit of reduced and protected caseloads.
“And yet while supervision is regular and social workers value the support they receive, it is not being used effectively to improve practice. There is a lack of follow-up on actions agreed in supervision – partly due to changes in frontline managers.
“It was also noted that the team hubs had experienced significant pressure due to a high staff turnover and significant difficulty in recruiting and retaining enough social workers and competent team managers. This has affected the quality of management and direction in several locality teams.
“Combined with unacceptably high caseloads for social workers in some teams, the effectiveness of practice has been compromised in some cases.
“More definitely needs to be done to ensure that social work practice improves the lives of Wolverhampton’s vulnerable children and families,” she added.
Ofsted said they will take the findings into account in preparation for their next visit to the service.